Category Archives: future

Short Story FUN!

Every time I go away for the summer (whether “away” is England, Colombia, the U.S. or all three), this blog dies a quiet little death. I am behind on everything. I injured my foot three weeks ago but I THINK (hope…?) that I’ve mostly recovered. Unrelated to said foot injury, while running in D.C. three weeks ago I tripped and landed on top of a tree root and got an IMPRESSIVELY humungous purple bruise on my leg that is still there (albeit faded), but I guess I won’t deal with it until I get back to England & free health care in September. I am also like seven books behind in my reading schedule. BUT! I am learning a lot here in Amish-country, observing lots of different teaching styles and teaching classes of my own (one popular lesson: I had the students read Anne Lammott’s “Shitty First Drafts” and then write their own versions of The Worst Story Ever. Several parents told me at the semester-end conferences that many of the students called it their favorite activity : ) #teachinghumblebrag). Will I ever be a teacher myself one day? Will I have a quiet little house on the hill in the country, as in this wonderful poem? Will I do this, will I do that? Will I have that, be that, go there, stay here? Questions, questions. At least fuckass Mercury Retrograde is finally over. (It’s times like this, when I type a sentence like the former, that I pause, stare into space and ask myself questions like Wait… did I really just sincerely write that?) Let’s… not go there.

One of the fun things about teaching is getting to daydream about my own Ideal Fancy Future Teacher Syllabus. As in, what I would love to have on my dream syllabus. The works I would love to share with others, discuss in class, and basically freak everybody out by getting EXTREMELY OVEREXCITED. Such a syllabus would primarily consist of short stories, since that’s what I’ve spent most of my time thinking about for the past two years. So what are the Dream Short Stories that I would include on my Dream Ideal Best Teacher 4-Eva Syllabus?

Joyce Carol Oates’ “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been”

Probably one of my favorite short stories ever. What an example of characterization. What brilliant plot execution. The location is limited, there aren’t that many characters, and yet, and yet, and yet. Is the ending happy, ambiguous or tragic? Is Arnold Friend a liberator or abuser? What to make of Connie’s character? It was especially fascinating teaching this story here in Pennsylvania, where so many of the students related to it SO MUCH, especially the parts about Connie’s relationship to music. It was also great getting to play them Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” and hearing them ask in incredulous voices, What’s wrong with his voice?

Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”

Wait, okay–this is definitely one of my favorite short stories ever, if not the top pick. The peculiarity of the ending!  I think this is what I love most about the short story form–how the endings can just feel so LIFE-CHANGING and EARTH-SHATTERING. Like, everything we think we know about the Grandma and the Misfit is completely turned upside down, inside out and battered to death by the story’s end. Who’s good? Who’s bad? IDK. But this story is pretty much perfect.

Tobias Wolff’s “Bullet in the Brain”

A story that is SO SHORT and yet SO EFFECTIVE and tells us SO MUCH in so few words (see all the capitalizations I just used there? That means I am being EMPHATIC…!). The beauty of the ending, in which the main character’s love of poetry and rhythm and language is summed up in one final American Beauty-like dream passage: They is, they is, they is. This would also be fun to read aloud in class.

Lorrie Moore’s “How to be a Writer”

A classic. Would be a good segue-way into a 2nd-person exercise. Not to mention a good way to prepare for the experience of being workshopped, heheh.

Denis Johnson’s “Emergency”

I’d love to use this in a lesson about unreliable narrators. Or to talk about the effect that short stories can have on us–how more than anything else, you know that a short story has done its job when a) you want to keep reading and b) it’s created some kind of FEELING in you. Any emotion, period. Not to mention the way the narration is full of constant twists and turns, to the man with the knife in his eye to the angels in the movie theatre to the hitchhiker at the end–Johnson creates a wonderful sense of absurdity and unexpectedness, in which we never know what is going to happen next. Another reason to teach this: I love it. Also: it is hilarious. Also: I could show the film clip of the bunnies getting squashed, which I believe I have already posted on this blog, but whatever, here it is again.

David Foster Wallace’s “Forever Overhead,” ZZ Packer’s “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere,” Aleksander Hemon’s “Islands”

These three stories I have stolen directly from the syllabus of the short story class I took in graduate school, because a) I loved them and b) do I need another reason other than that? I guess I feel like they are masterful texts, and (in the case of Packer and Hemon especially), hilarious. The Wallace and Packer pieces would feel especially relevant to the age group I am currently working with, while Hemon I find simply hysterical in the darkest of Herzogian senses (I swear to God if I ever have a fulltime job teaching literature/writing one day my students will ALL be converts to the Church of Herzog by the semester’s end, srsly).

KAFKA, Cortázar & Borges

Oh my goodness, three of my all-time favorites–how to even begin? “The Metamorphosis”? (Too long?) “The Judgement”? (Too out of context?) “The Hunger Artist”? (Too… weird of an introduction?) What about Cortázar–would I go with “House Taken Over” and “Bestiary,” my current favorites, or the more commonly taught “Axolotl” and “Continuity of Parks“? And how on EARTH would you introduce Borges? (Perhaps this hilarious article would work best.)

Raymond Carver’s “Beginners” and “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”

We used these two stories in one of the most memorable classes I’ve had as a graduate student–after reading them, we had an interesting discussion about the role of the editor (how would we personally feel if an editor COMPLETELY CHANGED the majority of the story, even if it made it better? What about the editor WRITING HIS OWN PARAGRAPHS and inserting them into the text?). Then we passed out pieces we’d written ourselves and had classmates edit them by slashing them in half, i.e. cutting 50% of the words, Gordon Lish-style. It was an interesting exercise and its primary lesson lingered with me to this day: when in doubt, cut cut cut.

Flash fiction!

Lydia Davis! Amy Hempel! More Kafka! I’d love to use this as way to talk about expectations & satisfaction: is a short story meant to provide some sense of satisfaction or completion to the reader? If not, what then? And I’d especially love to use this book, leftover from my own youthful student days!

Poetry- Richard Siken, Jeffrey McDaniel, Tony Hoagland — ahh, who am I kidding, I know nothing about poetry apart from my own gut instinct about what I like vs what I don’t : )

Ali Smith would have to go on there somewhere too, but with what story? The tree one? The meeting-Death-on-the-tube one? The awkward dinner party surrounded by dead River Phoenix photos one? What about Alice Munro? Aimee Bender? Judy Budnitz? Junot Díaz? Sherman Alexie’s “The Toughest Indian in the World”? Isn’t J.D. Salinger a must-have? Would I have to include Edgar Allan Poe in order to have something “old” represented? Will I ever appreciate Chekhov? Should I include Helen Simpson? Deborah Levy? Do I need to include Barthelme in order to have the white male postmodernists represented (if I did include him, I’d use this story)? What about Sebald? Can I include a stand-alone chapter from Buddha in the Attic, one of the best novels I’ve read recently, as an example of innovative historical fiction? Am I a bad person for “not getting” Karen Russell? How about Ben Marcus, another recently discovered favorite? What about someone like David Means, whom I’ve never even read? Is there a way I could sneak the short film “Plastic Bag” onto the syllabus, if only to have Werner Herzog’s voice boom throughout the classroom at top volume?

Aaaaah! These will all be such good in-the-future problems to have!

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Filed under future, jobs, lists, short stories

Addiction Literature

There are certain things I try to do regularly, in order to better ensure my emotional, mental and spiritual health:

  • Keep a gratitude journal, in which I write down 3 things I am grateful for at the end of each day.
  • Meditate and freewrite for 5 minutes per day.
  • Try to get enough exercise.
  • Make a long list of good and kind things I can do for others, from the simple (thanking people via email) to the complicated (signing up to volunteer at an event). It is in giving that we receive, etc. So instead of feeling lonely or depressed, I can look at this list and try to do one of these things for comfort, as a way to help myself feel better.

All this results in something like that Linda Gregg poem I love so very much: I’m not feeling strong yet, but I am taking good care of myself. Ideally these actions are more like guides or signposts as opposed to harsh dictator-like orders. I don’t want my life to feel like this endless to-do list, like the only thing that makes me worthwhile is what I end up doing. I want to know that I’m good for being ME, not just for what I DO. But just like everyone else in the world, from time to time I experience intense bouts of moodiness, melancholia & depression, but I can usually bounce back pretty well if I focus on doing the things that I know will make me feel good.

I have a lot of good things here that help me with that. There are some times when I look at this little life that I have built for myself in Portland and it feels like something I can marvel at. I’ve done a really good job at making friends with lots of different groups of people (even successfully combining them at times!), getting out and about, doing work that is important and connecting with writing communities. My job is fulfilling and meaningful and keeps me busy but not overwhelmed. I’ve worked (am working) hard on my writing and it’s come a long way in the past two years, I think. I also think the past two years I’ve done a really good job of learning (am still learning!!!) the most important thing at all: how to depend on and take care of myself, and all of the self-care that entails. Portland itself often feels like that David Whyte poem to me: This is the temple of my adult aloneness, and I belong to that aloneness as I belong to my life.

I also have a lot of good things coming for me. July 10th is my last day as an Americorps member (ever!). July 11th, I’m driving to Berkeley. July 12th to August 4th, I’ll be working my summer job. Then I get to spend some time with friends in San Francisco, visit my grandparents, hopefully go to Yosemite. At some point I drive back to Portland so that I can do my meditation retreat from August 16th to the 26th. And then the next two weeks are completely unscheduled. I can go to Crater Lake, Opal Creek, Yellowstone. I can visit my best friend in Chicago. I can be a bum, basically, until I fly to England on September 10th and begin what I guess you would call THE NEXT CHAPTER.

(I am really excited about that, obviously.)

This idea of self-care might explain why I’m so into non-fiction books about addiction. I’ve spent the past two years working really hard to learn how to take care of myself, and in a lot of ways (ironically enough!) addiction memoirs feel like effective “How To” manuals on how to do just that. In the past few weeks I’ve skimmed through/read Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man (Bill Clegg, crack), Lit (Mary Karr, alcohol), The Night of the Gun (David Carr, cocaine and alcohol) and Tweak (Nic Sheff, crystal meth, son of the author of Beautiful Boy). Ultimately, Beautiful Boy still gets my vote for overall best addiction memoir (I also have good memories of Elizabeth Wurtzel’s More, Now, Again, but rereading it might give me a different impression).

Portrait of an Addict wins for Best Portrayal of the Addiction Experience. The excerpt that appeared in the NY Times magazine still feels to me like the strongest piece of writing among all these works. I liked reading this book because it doesn’t fuck around with what it’s like to be addict. You want your crack and you want it now, and you’re going to be crawling around on your hands and knees trying to sort the crumbs from the carpet fluff in order to get it. My favorite parts of this book were the ones that felt like Day in the Life of a Crack Addict, i.e. like the magazine excerpt. The author really doesn’t mess around, you are there with him, every step of the way, on his journey to get more, more, more, more, more. It feels like complete and total hell. I don’t really know how I feel about the other sections in the books, i.e. the flashbacks to his childhood and how traumatizing it was that he couldn’t control his bladder (oh boy, does that remind me of my day job, working with kids!). At least these sections were written in a very poetic style, so they didn’t detract too much from the overall narrative. All in all I would say that this is a very strong work.

Out of all of these books, I think I enjoyed reading Lit the most. This is surprising because I REALLY didn’t think this would be the case. To be honest, I still haven’t actually read every word of it. I skimmed to the part where she starts drinking and read/skimmed/skipped around from there.

I didn’t think I would like this book for the same reason I didn’t think I would like Eat Pray LoveI thought I would find the author whiny, self-entitled and narcissistic. This didn’t happen. On the contrary, I would call Lit the Eat Pray Love of addiction memoirs. In the same way that Eat Pray Love came to mean a lot more to me the second time I read it, like REALLY read it, I suspect Lit will have the same effect if I eventually sit down to attentively read every word.

So basically, I liked Lit because of the tone the author used. She reminds me of what Tobias Wolff and George Orwell have said about writing non-fiction: you can’t be afraid to show yourself as shitty, weak or afraid. You’re not always the hero in your own story, you know? Sometimes you’re the bad guy. Mary Karr won points for me for not being afraid to look critically at herself, into the so-called abyss. At the same time, she has this wise, compassionate yet ball-busting tone that reminded me of Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s the same kind of gentle but realistic tone I would like my own future self to use when talking to my younger self someday.

The other great bonus about this book is that it contains a scene in which the author dates David Foster Wallace. Some google fu also revealed to me that she apparently was a big influence on Infinite Jest. YES!!!! Yet another reason to read this book again, this time with feeling!

Talk about not being the hero of your own story. The Night of the Gun is interesting because David Carr adopts a different technique than the other authors mentioned here: he treats his story like a traditional work of journalism, so the big emphasis in this book is on verifying facts, interviewing sources and compiling information. It works pretty well, and I definitely ended up reading a lot of sentences word-for-word as opposed to just skimming or speed reading.

The other big thing this book deserves praise for is for avoiding the “went to rehab, now everything’s okay” trap. I really liked the sections in which Carr openly commented on the typical structures of “recovery stories”: I had a beer with friends. Then I shot dope into my neck. I got in trouble. I saw “the error of my ways.” I found Jesus or twelve steps or Bhakti yoga. Now everything is new again. (177) This kind of open commentary and clearly expressed awareness on the typical (even boring) structure of addiction narratives is refreshing when compared to books like Tweak that treat the stops along the way like they’re a Really Big Deal.

I also really liked the parts of the book in which he reflects upon the nature of memory, and of memoirs as a form of creation myth. To me, this book is interesting because it’s about acknowledging darkness: as humans, we all have these deep evil impulses within us, and sometimes it seems like some of us are just better at controlling them than others. Carr tells one anecdote about a friend of his who, after smoking crack for the first time, immediately said “no” to the second hit, because he knew that it wouldn’t lead anywhere good. In contrast, Carr (or any of the authors listed in this post) said yes, and then yes again, and again, and again, and again. It makes me wonder if it’s really as simple as JUST SAY NO, or if it’s all just genetic, or maybe deep at heart we would all be raving crackeads if we could. Living from moment to moment, pleasure to pleasure, thinking about nothing else except the next moment of gratification, like in those nightmarishly hypnotic final pages about the epic Demerol binge that closes Infinite Jest. It sounds like complete and utter hell.

Tweak, I am sorry to say, I did not really enjoy. It had a lot to live up to as the companion/shadow work to Beautiful Boy. But I still think that even if I hadn’t read his father’s book, I wouldn’t have enjoyed this one. This book made me think of that apocryphal story about the Beatles, about how the first time they smoked pot or took acid or whatever, Paul McCartney wrote all these lyrics down that he was convinced were really super genius, when they were actually not even that good. I wonder if the same thing happenned to the author here. I think it’s really good if the author was able to use writing as a way to get through/over his addiction. But I really didn’t find the story in Tweak very compelling, at least not the way it was told here. A lot of the book is written in this very speedy, rambling On the Road type style. I didn’t really dig it. Am I biased because I maybe secretly wanted Beautiful Boy II? IDK. All I know is that this book felt like one episode after another, buying, using, selling, having sex with whacked out chicks, in a sketchy house, on a sketchy street, with a sketchy dude… I mean, I guess the life of a drug user is episodic in nature, so maybe the book is very accurate in that sense, but it honestly didn’t make for a very compelling read for me. I got bored after 100 pages and put it down.

“Yeah but except so how can I answer just yes or no to do I want to stop coke? Do I think I want to absolutely I think I want to. I don’t have a septum no more. My septum’s been like fucking dissolved by coke. See? You see anything like a septum when I lift up like that? I’ve absolutely with my whole heart thought I wanted to stop and so forth. Ever since with the septum. So but so since I’ve been wanting to stop this whole time, why couldn’t I stop? See what I’m saying? Isn’t it all about wanting to and so on? And so forth? How can living here and going to meetings and all do anything except make me want to stop? But I think I already want to stop. How come I’d even be here if I didn’t want to stop? Isn’t being here proof I want to stop? But then so how come I can’t stop, if I want to stop, is the thing.”

–Infinite Jest

Here’s one thing that all of these books made me think about: what is it that creates that fine line? What is it that separates me from the heroin junkie on the corner, or from any of the authors in these books? Because I want things too, you know, in the same way that we all do. We all have desires. Oh man, sometimes I even want things very, very, very badly, and I get really, REALLY upset if I don’t get them. My world gets all thrown up into a twist if I’m not getting this supposed thing that I supposedly want oh so very badly. But you know what, maybe living isn’t about about getting what you want all the time. Maybe the ultimate goal of life isn’t just to seek pleasure or to be happy or to avoid pain. What it means to live a good life is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, and I don’t really know if I buy into that whole Aristotelean thing about pleasure being the way of the good, or whatever it was (freshman year feels like a really long time ago).

So what DOES make a good life? And how do you live it? Well, according to most of these books the answer seems to be the following: you literally take it one day at a time, and you lean on these corny mantras (like “one day at a time”) as though they’re a life raft. When I read sections like that, maybe it’s weird, but I feel really comforted. I think things like Oh, OK. So that’s one way, then. This is a way that you can live your life. 

It’s like when I obsessively devour these books, what I’m really looking for is a manual on How to Live (not just “How to Survive”). Don’t we all want that, in the end? To live as joyfully and as meaningfully as we can, as opposed to feeling like we’re barely surviving, hanging on by a thread? And I guess one answer is that you just have to take it one day at a time. Try to be kind and forgiving towards yourself; after all, you’re all you’ve got. Don’t waste your time on people in your life who aren’t good for you and make you feel bad. Even if you’ve done bad things in your life that you feel bad about (like almost kill your infant twin daughters by leaving them in a freezing cold car overnight so that you could go into a house and smoke crack), the least you can do now is forgive yourself. Instead of waiting till you feel good in order to take action, act in a way that you know will lead to good feelings later (maybe that’s the definition of faith). Have faith that if you keep at it, and don’t give up, the good feelings WILL come.

Good things are coming soon. Every thing and every feeling ends. Better days lie ahead. At the end of my suffering there was a door; at the center of my life came a great fountain. (Louise Gluck)

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Filed under books, future, non-fiction, pondering the future, really deep thoughts

Some dates

November 4th- 9AM: Meet with Michael. I think? Figure out my bill with him.
Somehow find time to go to AT&T store to get phone replaced.
5.15pm- Go to creative writing event thing at alma mater, talk with old professor from 2005.

November 5th
– Go to 8.30am -2.45 pm traning for Job #2.
4.30 – 7.3opm: Go to board meeting for Job #1
Somehow find time to email professors recommendation letter requests.

November 16th- Take GREs.

November 17th- FLY TO ENGLAND.

December 1st- FIRST GRAD SCHOOL APPLICATIONS DUE (I don’t know if I’m gonna make this one, quite honestly).

December 5th- FLY BACK TO PORTLAND.

December 15th- NEXT ROUND OF GRAD SCHOOL APPLICATIONS DUE

December 17th-23rd- GO TO MEXICO (maybe)

January 15th-
LAST ROUND… ETC… USA APPS DONE.

March 1st-end of June- UK APPS… DONE.

It’s official, folks: WE ARE ON A MISSION.

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Filed under capslock, Dear Diary, future

“What I thought was an end turned out to be a middle.”

I’m back in Portland after two weeks spent in Woodburn for work. It was intense, but all in all a good (yes!) experience. Today has so far been defined by 1) an amazing horoscope for the upcoming week and 2) some pretty good poems I read today by Tony Hoagland. What a nice way to come home!

Virgo Horoscope for week of July 15, 2010

I want to see your willpower surge and throb and carry you to a ringing triumph in the next two weeks, Virgo. I hope to be cheering you on as you complete a plucky effort to overcome some long-standing obstacle . . . as you put the finishing touches on an epic struggle to defeat a seemingly intractable foe . . . as you rise up with a herculean flourish and put the stamp of your uniqueness on a success that will last a long time.

How It All Adds Up (Tony Hoagland)

There was the day we swam in a river, a lake, and an ocean.
And the day I quit the job my father got me.
And the day I stood outside a door,
and listened to my girlfriend making love
to someone obviously not me, inside,

and I felt strange because I didn’t care.

There was the morning I was born,
and the year I was a loser,
and the night I was the winner of the prize
for which the audience applauded.

Then there was someone else I met,
whose face and voice I can’t forget,
and the memory of her
is like a jail I’m trapped inside,
or maybe she is something I just use
to hold my real life at a distance.

Happiness, Joe says, is a wild red flower
plucked from a river of lava
and held aloft on a tightrope
strung between two scrawny trees
above a canyon

in a manic-depressive windstorm.

Don’t drop it, Don’t drop it, Don’t drop it—,

And when you do, you will keep looking for it
everywhere, for years,
while right behind you,

the footprints you are leaving

will look like notes
of a crazy song.

A Color of the Sky (Tony Hoagland)

Windy today and I feel less than brilliant,
driving over the hills from work.
There are the dark parts on the road
when you pass through clumps of wood
and the bright spots where you have a view of the ocean,
but that doesn’t make the road an allegory.

I should call Marie and apologize
for being so boring at dinner last night,
but can I really promise not to be that way again?
And anyway, I’d rather watch the trees, tossing
in what certainly looks like sexual arousal.

Otherwise it’s spring, and everything looks frail;
the sky is baby blue, and the just-unfurling leaves
are full of infant chlorophyll,
the very tint of inexperience.

Last summer’s song is making a comeback on the radio,
and on the highway overpass,
the only metaphysical vandal in America has written
MEMORY LOVES TIME
in big black spraypaint letters,

which makes us wonder if Time loves Memory back.

Last night I dreamed of X again.
She’s like a stain on my subconscious sheets.
Years ago she penetrated me
but though I scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed,
I never got her out,
but now I’m glad.

What I thought was an end turned out to be a middle.
What I thought was a brick wall turned out to be a tunnel.
What I thought was an injustice
turned out to be a color of the sky.

Outside the youth center, between the liquor store
and the police station,
a little dogwood tree is losing its mind;

overflowing with blossomfoam,
like a sudsy mug of beer;
like a bride ripping off her clothes,

dropping snow white petals to the ground in clouds,

so Nature’s wastefulness seems quietly obscene.
It’s been doing that all week:
making beauty,
and throwing it away,
and making more.

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Filed under future, poetry

Trying to nurture the “peace” as opposed to the “war”

Where I went this weekend

I spent a terrific weekend on the coast, and now I have this crazy sunburn on my back that reminds of those Wings tattoos that people get. I’ve been feeling a little run-down this week… from the sun, maybe (most delicious, totally worth it Vitamin D overdose ever). I am tired of working in an office. So tomorrow I am gonna be positive and proactive about things and do my darndest to go out on an ADVENTURE . Yeah!!

Sometimes I wonder if I will ever be happy in one place, doing one thing, as opposed to just waiting for the experience to end so that I can move onto the next thing. Is this just what it’s like being young? Or am I just being human?

I’m reading War and Peace right now and it’s been absolutely terrific so far. I jokingly said to Corey the other day, “This book is quickly becoming more addictive than Girls of Playboy Mansion.” (I went through a bad reality TV addiction the other week… yeah. But I’m over it now!!) I’m about 200 pages in so that leaves about 1,000 to go (uuf!). I can’t believe David Lean never made a movie of this.  It is just so exceedingly pleasant to come home at the end of a longday and settle into the couch with a sigh of satisfaction, a gigantic book on your lap that you are looking forward to reading, that you’ve been daydreaming about finally getting to sit down and read all day. That’s a sign of a good book, you know? If you are EXCITED, jittery anticipation style, about getting to sit down and read it!

So far the character I like the best is Pierre, the main one. He’s this rich, bumbling dude who came into a huge inheiritance and is trying to figure out what to do with his life (OH, the timeless problems of privilege!). My sister described this book as trying to figure out whether you wanted to live for others or live for yourself, which is as good a summary as any. The title itself, War and Peace, seems to be a pretty excellent encapsulation of the human condition: we’re either at peace with ourselves, happy and satisfied and content with our lot in life, or we’re at WAR, the little voices in our heads chitter chattering away, blaring out our dissatisfaction and pettiness and misery to everyone like exploding shells or air-raid cannons.

I read this great review of Tolstoy in The Nation that made me realize how fitting it is that the guy from Into the Wild was a huge Tolstoy fan, i.e. how “Tolstoyism” is an actual philosophy/approach to life, one that involves simplicity, renunciation of the self, and all those other Christopher McCandless stamp of approval type things.

Anyway, the Nation article talks about how Tolstoy wrote Bildung novels or novels of personal development, in which the individual enters into adult experiences, tries his hand at this and that and at last discovers his place in the world. The inner self aligns with the outer world, Elizabeth Bennet becomes Mrs. Darcy, and all is well and good. Yes? Or no? Is selling your soul to society and conforming REALLY the only way of arriving at inner peace and satisfaction, as opposed to the feeling that you are eternally untethered and adrift?

The article goes on to say that in later Tolstoy works, this idea was eventually rejected:

“In the later Tolstoy, the confrontation runs between, not inner and outer, but inner and, as it were, innermost. For the later Tolstoy, the layers a novelistic character accumulates–vocation, family, identity–are things to be discarded. Not, here, a thickening into wisdom but a lightening into humility. Not education, but revelation. Not development, but renunciation: the self stripped to its core. The self stripped, finally, of itself.”

I am not sure what it means or looks like, to have “the self stripped to its core,” but it shure sounds pretty and nice. Kind of like Rayuela‘s portrayal of Buddhism. Or Pema Chodron. It definitely makes me want to read more Tolstoy, if nothing else.

Things I am thinking about/looking forward to doing in Oregon:
– Taking a class at PSU (geography? Spanish lit? French? Portuguese? Creative Writing? Education? So many possibilities!! I am just–infinitely lucky!)
– Taking a gardening class at PCC
– Applying to one of those rural writer’s retreats where you live in a log cabin for a week or a month and just make art (I still haven’t forgotten my New Year’s Resolution…)
– Maybe get a part-time job pouring wine in the evening so that I can save up $$$
– Make new FRIENDS! Hang out with my ex co-workers from the B&G Club! Attend a writing workshop! Learn how to fix my falling apart bike! Go to the park and paint and draw!
– Maybe go to L.A. for a week at the end of March (if work schedule permits)
– Um, do a good job at my new job.
– Take LOTS of yoga classes. The more free or pay-what-you-can ones, the better. Look into getting yoga teacher certified?! I am slowly but surely getting more and more flexible; for instance, I can now place my palms flat on the ground. I guess the lesson from this is that change and growth is always possible.
– Mushroom hunting and hiking! Enjoy the beauty of the Pacific Northwest while I can!

“I have lived through much, and now I think I have found what is needed for happiness. A quiet secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books, music, love for one’s neighbor–such is my idea of happiness. And then, on top of all that, you for a mate, and children perhaps–what can more the heart of man desire?”
–“Family Happiness” quote featured in Into the Wild

“When you forgive, you love. And when you love, God’s light shines on you.”–quote from “Into the Wild” film

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Filed under Bildungsroman, books, colombia, future, lists, moody, the self

New Look, New Site, Same Blog

I’m working on trying to make this blog look more professional, which mainly involved exporting it from Blogspot to WordPress (which seems to be where all the cool kids hang out and blog these days). I wish I could go back through all the old entries and edit them: re-align the pictures, correct grammar and misspellings, rewrite poorly worded sentences, etc… but I really don’t feel like that would be a good use of my time. So, instead of focusing on the past, let’s look forward to the future! I hope you’ll all bear with me in the meantime… :)

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Filed under future, mission statement

life, London, this moment in June


I just got back last Wednesday from a two week trip to England and Paris to visit friends and family. While walking through the streets of London, through Trafalgar Sqaure and down Tottenham Court Road (how grandiose and epic and historical those names sound!), I loved reciting fragments from Mrs. Dalloway to myself, muttering these precious sounding phrases under my breath: what she loved, life, London, this moment in June. What a lark! What a plunge! Feeling as she did, that something awful was about to happen. For Heaven only knows why one loves it so. (3-4) I felt secretive and powerful, walking around and muttering these phrases absentmindedly to myself, as though I was one of those ancient pagan female magicians mentioned in the footnotes of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, casting a spell of protection, or maybe just chanting a mantra.

She always had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day. (8)

This is such a beautifully written book that no matter how many times I reread it, it never fails to shock me that Virginia Woolf killed herself. This is the number one book that I think of when I think of joyful writing, of writing that hums and writhes and wriggles in ecstasy from sheer joy and lust for life. It seems so puzzling that someone who could have written this also simultaneously decided that life, this life, was not worth living.

This book reminds me of something Tori Amos said about her most recent album: she said that she wanted it to be like a snapshot of time of what it was like to be a woman in this day and age. In Amos’ case, she’s chronicling the economic recession; in Woolf’s case, her focus is on Victorian society of post World War I. I’ll never really “know” what it was like to be a woman in that time and age (let’s stay away from the giant can of metaphysical worms). But Mrs. Dalloway is as engaging of a snapshot of a very specific historical period as they come. There’s tons of stuff to unpack here about post World War I society trauma and repression–you can easily make a parallel to the Iraq War, too (that’s another thing about this book that really got me: how easily you can apply it to life today, how contemporary it feels). “It was over; thank Heaven–over,” (5) Mrs. Dalloway thinks of the War, but of course it’s not (it never is), not for anybody.

No character better embodies the sense of the war not being over than the interestingly named Septimus Smith (his name is reminiscent of numbers, which feels important in a novel where the passage of time, the constant ebb and flow of “the hour, irrevocable” (117) and the ringing of the clocks is constantly emphasized). Septimus seems to suffer from such an excess of feeling that at times it sounds like an extremely bad acid trip: leaves were alive; trees were alive. And the leaves being connected by millions of fibres with his own body; … the spaces between them were as significant as the sounds. This problem of “over-feeling” seems to emerge as a reaction to his initial condition following the death of his friend Evans in the war, in which he “could not feel.” And then, with such hyper awareness and overdose of sensory input, it’s little wonder that Septimus found it difficult to get through the day.

Septimus’ plight made me think of Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception,: “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.” That seems to be Septimus’ problem; the infinity and deeper meaning of everything appears as too glaringly apparent to him, to the point where he can’t condense his experiences or make any sense of them anymore and they just become overwhelming. Upon viewing a motor car that contains someone in the Royal Family (perhaps the Queen? It’s never made clear), for Septimus it appears to him as “this gradual drawing together of everything to one centre before his eyes, as if some horror had almost come to the surface and was about to burst into flames, terrified him. The world wavered and quivered and threatened to burst into flames. It is I who am blocking the way, he thought.” (15) He almost sees the centre, but not quite. At the moment when Septimus throws himself off the balcony, he cries out “I’ll give it to you!” (149) Is he referring to this ungraspable center, always out of his reach?

In the end, death seems to be the only way of bringing it all together, as Peter Walsh muses while the ambulance carrying Septimus’ dead body whirs by: “a moment in which things came together; this ambulance; and life and death.” (152) Mrs. Dalloway discovers this for herself as well, upon hearing of Septimus’ death of her party: “Death was defiance. Death was an attempt to communicate; people feeling the impossibility of reaching the centre which, mystically, evaded them; closeness drew apart; rapture faded, one was alone. There was an embrace in death.” (184) In the end, Mrs. Dalloway “felt glad that he had done it; thrown it away… He made her feel the beauty, made her feel the fun.”(186) With this sentence, I feel like Woolf herself is saying that she’s glad that it is Smith who is doomed, the artist, madman and poet, as opposed to Mrs. Dalloway, the socialite everywoman, the woman of the earth. In Mrs. Dalloway, death emerges as a moment with a potential for understanding and knowledge, however brief. As Muriel Spark wrote, “Remember you must die,” and as Ali Smith writes (in her Mrs. Dalloway rewrite of sorts Hotel World, a highly recommended book), “Remember you must live, remember you most leave, remainder you mist leaf.”

This is a good book to read every other year or so, especially around the time when you grow a year older. (I just celebrated my birthday a few days ago.) There’s a lot of juicy “what-have-you-done-with-your-life? times-a-passin’!” passages. “How remorseless life is! A little job at Court!” (74) Remorseless indeed. It’s scary, overcoming so-called banality. I think that’s Woolf’s main point by making the titular character someone who could easily be mistaken for someone shallow and lacking depth: a housewife who likes to give parties, “the perfect hostess,” who at the same time is capable of these most incredibly poetic reveries:

“a grown woman coming to her parents who stood by the lake, holding her life in her arms which, as she neared them, grew large and larger in her arms, until it became a whole life, a complete life, which she put down by them and said, ‘This is what I have made of it! This!’ And what had she made of it? What, indeed?” (43)

What, indeed. How do you define what makes a meaningful or non-banal life? To whose judgement do you need to subject it to? How do you know that you’re making the right decisions, that you’re taking your life in the direction it needs to go in?

Then (she had felt it only this monring) there was the terror; the overwhelming incapacity, one’s parents giving it into one’s hands, this life, to be lived to the end, to be walked with serenely; there was in the depths of her heart an awful fear. (185)

I dunno. It may sound cliched and silly, but lately I’m really digging the mindset that it is REALLY not about the destination at all, it’s gotta be about the path. It sounds so mundane and banal when you put it like that. What I mean is that we really don’t get anywhere. We’re just on the road. You can get some things, some goals, some destinations you’d like to arrive at in your life–but you will never get it all. There is no idealized plateau where everything is suddenly going to click into place for you, click, and all of a sudden everything makes sense and you wake up every morning feeling content and fufilled and satisfied and you never have to worry about feeling otherwise. I mean, c’mon–that is NEVER going to happen (as this excellent clip discusses). That is as utopian of a vision of humanity as you’re going to get.

But I like what Richard Dalloway thinks about his days as an idealistic youth:

“He had been a Socialist, in some sense a failure–true. Still, the future of civlisation lies, he thought, in the hands of young men like that; of young men such as he was, thirty years ago; with their love of abstract principals; getting books sent out to them all the way from London to a peak in the Himalayas; reading science; reading philosophy. The future lies in the hands of young men like that, he thought.” (50)

I couldn’t agree with him more.

Still, the sun was hot. Still, one got over things. Still, life had a way of adding day to day. (64)

During this particular reread, another theme that stood out for me was the idea of simultaneous connection and isolation between people. I especially like the part where Richard Dalloway visualizes his connection to his wife as a “spider’s thread of attachment.” (115) It feels important when Richard buys Clarissa flowers instead of jewelry for a present and embarks on a grandiose mission, “walking across London to say to Clarissa in so many words that he loved her.” (115) Richard confronts the problem of how difficult it is to say exactly what you mean: “The time comes when it can’t be said; one’s too sigh to say it.” He thus comes to embody a very modern problem concerning language, that “it is a thousand pities never to say what one feels.” (116) Or more specifically, to be unable as weel ignorant as to how to say what you feel. How do you give words to a feeling like “I love you” in face of a dilemma such as Richard’s: “thousands of poor chaps, with all their lives before them, shovelled together, already half forgotten; it was a miracle. Here he walking across London to say to Clarissa in so many words that he loved her.” Needless to say, when the moment comes, he fails at his mission. But it feels somewhat redemptive that on the last page, Richard becomes capable of telling his daughter that he is proud of her: “He had not meant to tell her, but he could not help telling her.” (194) So there’s some hope there, at the end, of being capable of speaking, of putting feelings into words.

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Filed under death, future, travel, Woolf

What a lovely afternoon

So much has happened since the last time I updated that this entry is likely going to be a big splurgy mess, trying to summarize everything:

– I sprained my knee on the dance floor on Corey’s birthday night out at the Crystal Ballroom, during 80’s night. For a week I could barely walk. However, as of today I’m walking normally, and went to yoga class this morning, the first thing remotely resembling physical activity (other than walking or limping as fast as I could to the Max) that I’ve done in the past week. Hurting my knee has been a chronic injury since I first sprained it playing basketball in high school; this is at least the third time I can remember it popping out of its socket. I think I’m going to be fine. I’ll do some strength-building exercises and continue taking my housemates joint power-building vitamins (he’s a weightlifter).

– Corey and I spent four days in New Orleans for French Quarter festival. It was wonderful. I tried making a list of everything I ate but it was too long. Highlights included alligator sausage, turtle soup (delish), grilled oysters (or maybe they were clams? I dunno, but they were AMAZING), crawfish and goatcheese crepes, spicy gumbo, incredibly buttery BBQ shrimp, (“there’s some shrimp in your butter!” Corey told the cook), beignets, and an enormous crawfish and crab boil that Corey’s uncles dumped all over a table covered in newspapers (we diligently worked our way through it, occasionally sweeping the piles of carcasses we accumulated into a bucket on the floor). Basically the whole weekend belonged to thisiswhyyourefat.com. It was wonderful. I ate so much garlic it reeked through my pores for 24 hours.I forgot to pack the camera, but his mom sent Corey some photos, so maybe I’ll post those on the long-neglected travel blog.

– I was offered the Kiva Fellow position after a lengthy application process. So it looks like for 10 weeks (maybe more) in the fall Corey and I will be somewhere in Central or South America and I’ll have the chance to opportunity here. Hopefully I’ll find out about my placement as soon as possible… it hasn’t really sunk in at this point.

So here’s what the rest of the year is staring to (tentatively) look like: I’ll be leaving my current job before I journey with Corey to England for two weeks, from August 17th to September 2nd, in order to visit family for the first time in three years. From September 9th to the 20th I’m thinking about doing 10-day vipassana meditation retreat. From September 21st to the 25th I’ll need to be in San Francisco for training, and I’m thinking maybe I can cram some time a couple of days afterwards to visit friends in California (Ana? Cara? Leah and Kyndall? At least Grandma, if nothing else)…

Then I’ll need to depart for my placement any time between October 1st and the 15th (it’s pretty flexible, thankfully so). If I end up placed in South America, Corey and I still have that return ticket to Ecuador that we never ended up using, so maybe we could fly to Quito and then just bus our way to wherever. It probably won’t work out that way because our flight date will fall on a year after we bought it (September 17th ’08), so they’ll probably charge us a chazillion bucks to change it. Yuck. Well, we’ll figure it out!

This week sees the arrival of many friends visiting from afar: Los Angeles, France, Connecticut… I think my brain and heart might self-implode from happiness. Today so far: went to yoga class and did some grocery shopping, ate a yummy spinach-lettuce salad with oranges and balsamic vinegar, had a cup of super Irish english breakfast tea, read blogs about babies (don’t worry, I’m not getting any ideas, I just got trapped by how weird and alien and fascinating they were) and listened to Ani DiFranco’s latest album online. Happiness. Now it’s time for laundry…

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Filed under future, happiness

People Who Don’t Know the Answers

If I could write fiction like any author, I’d want to write like Anne Tyler. The first Tyler novel I ever read was Saint Maybe, which my sister checked out of the Colegio Bolivar library. It’s the same copy I have with me now; I guess one of us in an act out of an audacious sense of entitlement must have stolen it. If you look at the little flap of paper in the back (how old-fashioned and antique that seems now!), where the librarian would stamp the due date under FECHA DE VENCIMIENTO, the earliest date is 24 March 1998—more than ten years ago! Next to the due date we were supposed to write the grade we were in (who knows why), so there is also a historical record of the changes in my sister’s handwriting as well as mine. The small squat sixes of sixth grade, the taller and more elegant eights of eighth grade. A single thin nine. I guess it was after ninth grade, once we realized that we were the only people checking the book out, over and over again, that we decided that we were the proper owners of the book. Sorry, Bolivar library, forgive us! If it’s any consolation/defense, it has definitely found a loving home in our bookshelves.

I started re-reading Anne Tyler at exactly the right time. I’ve been sick since Sunday with an upper respiratory tract infection. TMI Warning I’ve been producing all this absolutely grotesque green phlegm, with the consistency of yogurt End TMI. It’s equal parts fascinating and disgusting—I am kind of amazed that something like this could come out of my body. On Friday night I took some Dayquil, drank some Visoda and bravely went out on the town with Corey for a birthday night of dancing at the 80’s dance night at the Crystal Ballroom. In the middle of “Burning Down the House,” I slipped on a puddle of water and dislocated my left knee, the same knee I’ve been injuring chronically since high school. This is at least the fourth time it’s been sprained. It’s much better today than yesterday, but it still feels weird, all stretched and unsteady. I’m taking Matt’s joints rehabilitation vitamin pills and icing it a lot. I can sort of hobble now, which is a big improvement.

Thus it feels like subconscious psychic foreshadowing on my part that I had the foresight to check out all these Tyler novels last week, like The Accidental Tourist and Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. I re-read Tourist , lived vicariously through Macon’s injury and recovery and am now plunging eagerly through Dinner, which I’m not sure if I’ve ever read completely. I have this weird deja-vu feeling reading it, so I’m thinking that maybe I started reading it at some point, but just never finished.

There is something so wonderful and comforting about an Anne Tyler novel. When I’m keeping an injured leg elevated about heart level to encourage reduced swelling while reaching for the roll of toilet paper and hacking my guts out, I can’t think think of any other author I’d rather read. “The perseverance of human beings suddenly amazed him,” realizes one of the characters in Dinner. It’s this perseverance and doggedness that Tyler is particularly skilled at highlighting. Or as a character in Tourist observes,

‘You ever wonder what a Martian might think if he happened to land near an emergency room? He’d seen an ambulance whizzing in and everybody running out to meet it, tearing the doors open, grabbing up the stretcher, scurrying along with it. ‘Why,’ he’d say, what a helpful planet, what kind and helpful creatures.’ He’d never guess that we’re not always that way; that we had to, oh, put aside our natural selves to do it. ‘What a helpful race of human beings,’ a Martian would say. Don’t you think so?’

It’s just really nice to read books about people who are genuinely trying to be good, even if their actions don’t always make it seem that way. Tyler has a lot of love for her characters and it shines through in a way that makes me think of that famous quote about Salinger, that he loved his characters more than God loved them. (Further research led me to learn that this quote was by John Updike, and was meant as a criticism of Salinger. I never liked your writing anyway, Updike.)

Saint Maybe particularly hit home for me at this point in my life, mainly because it’s about a character who spends most of the book taking care of children who are not his own. Ian’s wry observations about taking care of children had me nodding my head vigorously, yes, yes:

He wondered how people endured children on a long-term basis—the monotony and irritation and confinement of them.
You could never call it a penance, to have to take care of these three. They were all that gave his life color, and energy, and… well, life.
It wasn’t easy. A lot of it was just plain boring. Just providing a warm body, just being there; anyone could have done it. And then other parts were terrifying. Kids get into so much! They start to matter so much. Some days I felt like a fireman or a lifeguard or something—all that tedium, broken up by little spurts of high drama.

The other part of the book that drew a straight line between my heart and the pages were the sections about the incertitude of knowing. A lot of the book is about learning how people who seem to “know all the answers” really, well, don’t. In fact, nobody does. Understanding the meaning of someone or something in your life is eventually understood as something that’s ultimately impossible to do:

Apparently, he thought, there were some people in this world who simply never came clear. Reverend Emmett, Mr. Brant, the overlapping shifts of foreigners… In the end you had to accept that the day would never arrive when you finally understood what they were all about. For some reason, this made him supremely happy.

It’s the “happy” part that’s key. Ian’s main conflict in this book is kicked off by the “arrogant certitude” with which he informs his brother that his wife is cheating on him. At the time, he feels like he definitively “knows” this as a fact, but over time he has to admit that no, he really doesn’t know it at all. More than anything else, this book seems to me now to be about surrendering that need for possessive control, to “know” how things are and how things are going to turn out. In the opening pages, Ian is described as someone who is always imaginng his life as seen from a distance, as observed by an outsider:

There were moments when he believed that someday, somehow, he was going to end up famous. Famous for what, he couldn’t quite say; but he’d be walking up the back steps or something and all at once he would imagine a camera zooming in on him, filming his life story. He imagined the level, cultured voice of his biographer saying, ‘Ian climbed the steps. He opened the door. He entered the kitchen.’

This passage really hit home for me with a particularly sharp pang because I used to do the same thing as a really little kid. I’d make lists of all the novels I was going to write. Sitting on the toilet or high up in the mango tree in the yard, I’d talk to myself and answer questions about my life, pretending I was being interviewed on a talkshow or by a reporter. Yeah, I was a particulary imaginative kid, but more than that, I had this ambitious, feroscious drive in me that I had to *BE* someone, you know? My ego was a hungry-hungry-hippo, and it wanted to feed. It still does.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about ego lately (thanks Siddhartha!). When you graduate from college, you’re really forced to think about what you want to do in a grandiose, epic fashion: “so are you going to be one of those people who are going to *BE* somebody??” the ego hungrily, greedily chatters at you. “You’re not just going to waste and fritter your days/years away, right? You’re going to *DO* something, right?? You’re going to be GREAT!!” Sometimes this voice is helpful, because it can drive you to do things you wouldn’t normally do. Other times, it can be quite exhausting. Your ego is always demanding knowledge, knowledge, knowledge, defitive plans, facts, schedules. Sometimes you just can’t have that in life, though.

In Saint Maybe, another one of the main lessons that Ian learns is about “leaning into his burden.” About viewing it as a gift, rather than a weight. This is the only life you’ll have. So you might as well not get stressed out about things, you know? Next week I won’t be working as a prestigious research assistant with a really important professor in a well-known university, but I will be building submaries with third graders. And for now, that’s enough. It’s enough for now to listen to Alex Murdoch’s “Orange Sky” and the Dixie Chicks’ “Travelin’ Soldier” on Corey’s pandora country music station and daydream about the piece of bread with melted cheese I’m about to get up and make myself in a minute. Maybe this afternoon I’ll work on some applications for some potentially cool summer/fall stuff. And maybe learn the Higitus Figitus.

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.”

–T. H. White, The Sword in the Stone (found on Slate’s The Happiness Project blog, my latest fascination/addiction)

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Filed under books, comfort food, future, really deep thoughts, review

The Empire Never Ended

Man, it’s been hard for me to feel relaxed lately! It’s been a little hard for me to figure out why…

1 – I have first-day of school anxieties about running the Mad Science camps during spring break at the B&G Club this week. Oh, it just goes on and on, doesn’t it? Trying to get the printer to work so that I can print out the instructions. Finding the time with Corey at some point this week to make sure I actually know how to build a bottle rocket before I go about trying to teach 30-40 children how to do so.

2 – This has been true for the past week or so, but lately it feels like the long commute is really getting me down. When I take the Max from my house (as opposed to downtown), it takes me an hour and a half to get to work, as opposed to forty minutes. An hour and a half!! That’s something like 15 hours a week, just spent sitting on the Max, to and fro. That’s like another part-time job, right there. I dunno, I never really planned on doing this job forever, just because it’s neither all that challenging or well-paid. It’s good for now; it’s definitely better than nothing. I mean, the people with master’s in education who work there and get paid just as much as me definitely helps puts things in perspective re: the current job market economy blah blah blah. And if that doesn’t do it, then the chirping crickets and tumbleweeds blowing through the job postings on craigslist and idealist will definitely do it for ya.

3 – I applied for a fellowship to work/volunteer abroad, but apart from that I really haven’t been doing anything. I mean, I check Americorps every week, craigslist every couple of days… I feel like I’m making an effort to keep looking. There’s some journalism internships in D.C. and a non-profit internship in San Francisco that look interesting, but the idea of moving to these brand new expensive cities for an unpaid position just makes me feel like stale jam on the inside. The deadline to teach in Spain still hasn’t passed. I dunno, I’m not really into applying for things just for the sake of applying for them anymore (though that’s how I got this job and got saved from unemployment). I guess I’m going to just keep doing what I’m doing: keep my eyes open, scan things once a week but not really get too stressed out about it. If I don’t get the fellowship Corey and I might just take off to South America and WWOOF it for a while.

4 – #3 is tied in with #4, the whole thinking/pondering/reflecting about the future (I don’t want to put worry! Why worry, right?). I think a lot of this general anxiety may have to do with the fact that Laura is thesising, and so she’s pretty much constantly stressed out and/or on very little sleep. I was talking to Emily on the phone the other day and I said that when I think about my spring break last year, I almost feel like I have PTSD: my heart starts pounding, my mouth tastes slightly acidic, my hands feel trembly like I’ve drunk too much coffee, I feel nervous for no discernible reason. Maybe it’s because Laura is thesising that I’ve inevitably started thinking about mine. I dunno, I was reading some Onetti short stories and I picked up Faulkner’s The Wild Palms… long story short, I need to easier on myself.

I am trying to learn about my “self” and what that “self” is…. I dunno, in my postmodern fiction class we talked a little about how modernity can really fracture and damage the self… I think the term I ended up using the most in my papers was the “decentered” self. That sounds about right: something not in its right place, teetering uneasily on the edge. And then in some of my yoga classes, the teacher mentioned thinking about our “divine” selves. All this sounds really woo-wooh, but bear with me a little. It was such a mind-blowing, weird concept to me: this idea that I have this self inside of me who is already perfect, already full formed, and the point of my life is to gradually and carefully peel away as many layers as I can in order to get as close to this perfect self as possible. I think of someone who is calm, mostly happy every day, peaceful and positive and satisfied with herself and life. Yeah, this is the self I am trying to approach.

It is so weird to try to think about this “self” in me. It’s like trying to get to know a stranger. I’m like asking this self, so what do you do? Are you a writer? An academic? Do you teach in a university? Do you sit at home with your garden and write novels with your laptop in your lap? Do you teach English in a foreign country? Do you work as a journalist and write articles with sharp precise language about important issues? What do you do? What do you want? I want to reach the point where I know this person well enough to greet them as a friend, as opposed to an enemy or uneasy awkward acquaintance, when the day arrives. It t is all really very mind blowing, indeed.

It’s hard to balance thinking about things in the long-term, but then also doing the day-to-day stuff that is necessary. Putting healthy food in your belly. Trying (unsuccessfully for two days now) to get your computer back from your boyfriend’s sister, after you left your bag in your car, so that you can finally get started on revising your silly nanowrimo, which is so silly, but god help us, you find it so fun and fulfilling and entertaining anyway. Working the day job, making money so that you can pay your rent so that you can live with your lover and save up money to visit your parents in South America and your family in England. My grandmother just turned 93 in January and I really, really need to go see her. My aunt and uncle lost their house to the bank, victims of foreclosure. Yeah, family is important. No matter the anxiety that capitalism trains us to feel when our checking or savings account is suddenly and drastically emptier. What am I saving this money for, if not to go see friends and family now?

This really hit home in a powerful way:
you are going to have to go on a kind of journey.

You’re going to have to do certain things and trust that answers will come to you. That involves letting go of a certain amount of control. It involves not doing what you have been doing. It involves change.
I mean, I’m confident that you’re going to be fine, and I’d like you to trust me on that, but I’m not saying it will be easy, because lurking in this issue are some subtle concepts about the self and the world that you can only really get through emotional experience.
Just sit with your dreams and desires. Exempt them from the feasibility study. Regard them with interest. Allow yourself to feel the way you feel about them.
This sounds really woo-woo. But, hey. There is no shortcut. You’re going to have to head in a new direction.
It takes courage to set out doing things in a new way. You’re not going to know, right away, exactly where you’re headed. So I suggest that you visualize, or dream, or speak from the heart, or sketch on a piece of paper, what you actually want — where you want to be right now, what you want to be doing, what you want to own. I guess, eventually, if you find that you really want certain things, then you will be allowed to move to the stage of getting them. But for now, my opinion is that you have been doing too much getting and not enough wanting. So stick to wanting for a while. See if that doesn’t relieve some of the anxiety about getting. Let go of getting. Just stick with wanting.

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Filed under Dear Diary, future, really deep thoughts, work