Saturday, August 25, 2007

Sexual behavior in the human (fe)male

I'm writing like I did at the inception of this blog. Then again, I've been writing a lot lately, almost to the point of graphomania. Something's come over me lately, some urgent energy, and the way I've been releasing it is in my journal, in writing and revising poems, in here. A friend suggested that perhaps forces beyond me (like the upcoming lunar eclipse on Tuesday) are acting upon me. It's possible. I'm just grateful to have an outlet.

I finished Middlesex the other night. There were parts of it where Jeffrey Eugenides is a little too clever by half, but for most of it, I was completely absorbed. Here's a passage I loved that reminded me of something else I read that I can't place (Kundera? Calvino?). I love it anyway, but it also connects with me in a big way right now, as I brace for each complicated state of mind that comes my way. I'd call my current state "the difficulty and relief of abandoning living in fantasy."

Emotions, in my experience, aren't covered by single words. I don't believe in "sadness," "joy," or "regret." Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I'd like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions like, say, "the happiness that attends disaster." Or: "the disappointment of sleeping with one's family." I'd like to show how "intimations of mortality brought on by aging family members" connects with "the hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age."

The narrator (this isn't spoiling anything; it's revealed on the first page) is an intersexed person, hermaphrodite, etc. But like any good premise for a book, this is mined for metaphor:

Stephanides, an American, grandchild of Greeks, admires this Turkish immigrant to Germany, this
Gastarbeiter, as he bakes bread on Haupstrasse here in the year 2001. We're all made up of many parts, other halves. Not just me.

In a similar vein, I checked out Kinsey from the library last night and watched it, as I've been meaning to do for quite a while now. According to the film (which was a little artistically heavy-handed sometimes, but the acting was wonderful - especially Peter Sarsgaard's), what fascinated Kinsey was variety: the fact that each organism is distinct from all the others. The character in the movie gives this speech; I don't know if Alfred Kinsey actually said or wrote it:

...everyone is different. The problem is, most people want to be the same. They find it easier to simply ignore this fundamental aspect of the human condition. They're so eager to be part of the group that they'll betray their own nature to get there.

It helps me greatly to watch and read things like this every now and then, to remember the infinite variety of which we are capable, and not to be pushed into ideas of normality just because they're there. And even though I am averse to the idea of living in Bloomington again, I think I would move there if I could get a job at the Kinsey Institute library.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Zen and the Art of Collection Maintenance

I forgot to write about Between the Acts, which I read, well, sort of between the acts of the past month. Leonard Woolf includes this disclaimer at the beginning:

The MS. of this book had been completed, but had not been finally revised for the printer, at the time of Virginia Woolf's death. She would not, I believe, have made any large or material corrections in it, though she would probably have made a good many small corrections or revisions before passing the final proofs.

Virginia Woolf left partially completed a work about the disappointment of an artist's life, and the knowledge of that made the whole thing fairly devastating to read. Miss La Trobe, the writer/director of the pageant that takes up the whole book, is - I think it's safe to say - a stand-in for VW, or at least for the artist in general. After the pageant is over, she thinks:

But what had she given? A cloud that melted into the other clouds on the horizon. It was in the giving that the triumph was. And the triumph faded. Her gift meant nothing. If they had understood her meaning; if they had known their parts; if the pearls had been real and the funds illimitable - it would have been a better gift. Now it had gone to join the others.

This passage is a long way from the pragmatic hope of my favorite VW piece, A Room of One's Own. To be honest, I'm not quite sure what to make of it - except to say that, as far as one human being can approximate another's state of mind, I think I better understand the place VW was in near the end of her life.

On another subject, entirely: I just want to sing the praises, for a moment, of repetitive library-related work. I'm talking about stamping (which I've been doing to theses at MIT all summer), checking in and repairing materials, and good old shelf reading. Concentrating on putting numbers in order puts my mind into this near-meditative state that I appreciate. I'm realizing that after I'm done with school and I get a job as a real grown-up librarian, I probably won't be doing these tasks (at least, not as often). Which is fine, but I'll have to find something to replace it. Perhaps actual meditating - I abandoned fairly quickly my New Year's resolution to do so every day. Lately, the world's kind of been screaming at me not to intellectualize so much.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Falling in love again

Holy crap, it's been almost a month..again. I have some excuses; I had the flu (or something); I went to my sister's wedding in Chicago; etc.

Our title this time comes from some old song we used to listen to in the car. My dad was big on swing and big band; I think the version we used to listen to was by Linda Ronstadt. You know how it goes: "Falling in love again; what am I to do? ...never wanted to; I can't help it."

Lately, I've been falling back in love. Like, for example, with Dar Williams' first commercially released album, The Honesty Room. I listened to it a lot last week, and though I can hear how she's grown in a lot of ways since then, those songs are so well-written and well-done. Like "The Great Unknown," this anti-nuclear song that could feel outdated, but doesn't, and the way she calls love "a storm in a shadowbox." Anyway, I recommend it.

I forgot, too, how much I love the Pioneer Valley, where I went to college. I went there with my friend Amy this Sunday, who's never been there, and I got to see everything again, and realize how beautiful it is, and how much happened to me there.

I start class again after Labor Day, and I've got a lot to do before then. I'm going to start a new job (we'll be delving into the world of academic reference this time!), and I've got to move out of my lovely summer sublet. This summer, I've been working - that's it - but I always feel so busy. It makes me wonder how the people I know with other responsibilities - like children, for example - get anything done whatsoever, or have any measure of peace. Perhaps they watch fewer expurgated Sex & the City reruns on TBS. Whatever. As long as I finish both the books I started recently (The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai; Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides), I'll be golden. Of course, I did buy two used ones at the Book Mill - The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and a book of Phillis Wheatley's poems. There should be another law of thermodynamics about the proportion of books bought to books read (and books checked out for months from BPL).