Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A few thoughts on December 31.

My dear readers, welcome to my last post of 2008 and the 100th post of this blog. I have a faux-deep entry about family brewing on the back burner, but that's not how I want to end the year. My subconscious relies on heavy-handed symbolism, and so, to quote myself quoting Dar Williams two years ago, let's get into loving the false promise of the New Year.

I have to say, 2008 was a banner year for all of us ( which I mean me) here at A Room Full of Books. It was full of dramatic revelations, grinding periods of limbo, and exorbitant blessings. It heaped possibilities and opportunities on me, and is daring me not to fuck it up in 2009.

A very happy new year to all who read this little navel-gazing endeavor. I hope it's a good one.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Completely inconsequential but maybe amusing

Yesterday I was in Goodwill and I found a VHS of the Disney animated version of Robin Hood, which I had been thinking about all day. I'm not even joking. I really love this movie, for many reasons, some of which I won't get into for fear of judgment. ANYWAY. I was watching it and the cadence of Sir Hiss started sounding really familiar to me. If I were more technically savvy, I would put these images side by side and have accompanying audio, but...I guess you'll just have to trust me.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

If I wasn't officially a nerd before....

...I am now. I was doing legitimate collection development work and happened to come across two books I thought I'd take home for a little light reading. They are:

Google and the Myth of Universal Knowledge: a View from Europe by Jean-Noel Jeanneney


Why Buffy Matters: the Art of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
by Rhonda Wilcox

That's all. It's been a very eventful couple of weeks, in both bad and good ways. The best thing is that my niece was born on Wednesday, and I get to see her in a week. Yay.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Different people

My, my , my. it's been so long and I have lots of things I want to talk about. But let's just take things one at a time.

After reading David Sedaris's When You Are Engulfed in Flames in a couple of days, I have moved on to one of my old friends-of-the-library-bookstore purchases, James Merrill's memoir A Different Person. I like David Sedaris. I have, and I will. But he is, in fact, a wildly successful, and apparently wealthy, writer - and some of his anecdotes now revolve around someone sitting next to him in first class, or going to live in Japan for a couple of months to quit smoking. I don't really feel particuarly resentful about it or anything, or that I can't "relate" to him. It's just an observation.

While I enjoy David Sedaris, I really love James Merrill. I'm grateful that the English language fell into his hands and he handled it with such mastery, grace, and music. And part of the reason he was able to do so was because he never had to work for money. A Different Person, which covers JM's early years (so far in Europe), contains sentences that most of us will never utter, e.g., "Donkeys bore Miss Beltrami and me to Tiberius's villa," or "Where I was content to find myself in a Faure song or a Degas interior, he identified manfully with a Zen scroll or the St. John Passion."

But I can skim over these things, because his writing is true and beautiful and funny. The way he uses the phrase "a different person" in each chapter in a different sense, for example. And of course, since I often read parallel to my own life, I can certainly understand a lot of the things he says about being young and trying to write and love and live in a way that feels right. For instance...."A precocious adolescent makes do with whatever odd conglomerate of wave-worn diction the world washes up at his fee. Language at this stage uses him; years must pass before the tables turn, if they ever do."

Lastly, I just want to talk about Lucy Wainwright Roche. A couple of months ago, I was making a mix for Michelle on which I wanted to include songs about Chicago, so I typed that city into iTunes to see what I got, and one was Roche's "Chicago." Then I saw she was opening for Catie Curtis in Arlington a couple of weeks ago, so I went. She was by far the best part of the show, and I bought her two EPs (8 Songs and 8 More) immediately. Her song "Snare Drum" is a nearly perfect folk song. That one isn't on her MySpace page, unfortunately, but "Chicago" and a few others are, as well as her tour dates.

Quotations from James Merrill's A Different Person. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

I'm gonna make it after all

On Wednesday morning, I felt like Mary freaking Tyler Moore. I woke up to a sunny day in Cambridge and all these brand new things: new job, new apartment, new city, new president. It was a concatenation of the rare and beautiful moments when the new things are still shining and haven't become worn or debunked or taken for granted. I felt like I had luck pouring out of me.

The new job is at an academic library and is going well so far. I'm the new kid, definitely. But I think it's going to be good. I'm trying not to show that I've never had a Real Job before, that I don't know the difference between personal and vacation days, that I don't yet know my way around collection development databases or even really Excel.

In book news, I'm reading Sarah Vowell's The Wordy Shipmates, which is her very Vowell-y book about the Puritans. She is such a weirdo; I love her.

Anyway. I of course miss the Midwest and everyone I love who lives there, but I'm glad to be back here, riding the T and listening to WBUR, overhearing pretentious conversations and walking on brick sidewalks. I missed it.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Let us do something grand, just this once

It's 10 in the morning and I've been up for a while. I am contemplating a second cup of coffee while I pack and organize and prepare to move in less than a week. (!) I'm not sure when the next time I update will be; my Internet situation may be sketchy at first.

I've packed all of my poetry books except for the one that was beside my bed, the collected poems of Frank O'Hara. I've been meaning to read them all, because I really like his poems. And they're filled with small daily details and descriptions of life in cities, which are things I'm thinking about lately. He was also one of the founders of the Poets' Theatre in Cambridge, not far from my new apartment. So in my (probably) last dispatch from Illinois, here are two poems by Mr. O'Hara, "1951" and "To the Poem."

Alone at night
in the wet city

the country's wit
is not memorable.

The wind has blown
all the trees down

but these anxieties
remain erect, being

the heart's deliberate
chambers of hurt

and fear whether
from a green apartment

seeming diamonds or
from an airliner

seeming fields. It's
not simple or tidy

though in rows of
rows and numbered;

the literal drifts
colorfully and

the hair is combed
with bridges, all

compromises leap
to stardom and lights.

If alone I am
able to love it,

the serious voices,
the panic of jobs,

it is sweet to me.
Far from burgeoning

verdure, the hard way
in this street.

To the Poem

Let us do something grand
just this once Something

small and important and
unAmerican Some fine thing

will resemble a human hand
and really be merely a thing

Not needing a military band
nor an elegant forthcoming

to tease spotlights or a hand
from the public’s thinking

But be In a defiant land
of its own a real right thing

from Allen, Donald, ed. The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Eyes on whatever your prize might be

Okay, bear with me because I don't exactly know what I want to say. But lately, I've been thinking about the way people interfere in the way other people live their lives. It's one thing for a friend to intervene when she thinks you're doing something that will result in sorrow down the road. It's another to be fighting others' preconceived expectations at every turn. Maybe I've just been living in the suburbs too long (and luckily I get to leave soon). I guess a lot of the thoughts I've had are similar to an entry I posted I think around Christmas, about how people live much more complex lives and have much more complex relationships then anyone likes to talk about. I think about the people I know who got married to socially acceptable partners and had kids, as they were expected to do, and then got divorced. Obviously the reasons for divorce are also complex, but would it have been as bad if there hadn't been a sense of failing those expectations?

Anyway, anyway. If anyone has any thoughts on these vague ramblings, let me know.

On another note: since muxtape as it was no longer exists, here's a text-only version of the latest playlist/CD I made myself. As usual, it's a mix of songs that won't get out of my head and ones that reflect my current state.

Eyes on the Prize

1. These are the Fables - the New Pornographers
2. Wash Away - the Chapin Sisters
3. Mamma Mia - Meryl Streep
4. Recommendation - Mirah
5. I Guess That's Why They Call it the Blues - Elton John
6. The Wood Song - Indigo Girls
7. Good to Me - Inara George
8. The Ballad of John and Yoko - the Beatles
9. Eyes on the Prize - M. Ward
10. Troubled Times - Dar Williams
11. I'd Have You Anytime - George Harrison
12. My Sweet Love - John Mellencamp
13. Goodnight Lover - Dawn Landes
14. It's Alright - Dar Williams
15. Dry the Rain - the Beta Band

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Promised Land, redux

Well, it's been a while. Sorry to those who have been missing my little updates. Things have been happening at a rapid pace, and it's very nice, at this moment, to be sitting quietly on the back porch at my mother's house, on a sunny, windy October day.

I've had visitors, eye problems, excursions to Boston and Louisville and Indiana, and interviews in the past month or so. And there's more coming, because I'm going to be moving back to Boston in less than a month. My first day at my new job will actually be Election Day (I'll be voting early). I swear, the Dar's-new-album-karma worked again. A couple of weeks ago, I was wondering why I hadn't just stayed there after graduation, and tried to get by living alone on my little jobs. But I'm really glad I had this summer, and now I'm returning to Boston better than when I left, employed and paired. Not that being unemployed and single is necessarily bad. But I am a lucky, lucky girl.

In book news. Ryan and Clare have talked enough about BookMooch to get me to join today. My name is LaBibliotecaria, if you want to be friends. I'm looking forward to getting rid of a lot of books I don't need anymore before I move. (Of course, if one of you dear readers would like one outside the system, just let me know.)

I finished Sister Carrie on Friday night. It was pretty unsettling, I have to say. Realism in every sense of the word, including the ways that life is boring and unfair and progresses in ways that don't make sense. The most horrifying part was reading about Hurstwood's decline into homelessness and pennilessness, because it was so easy.

Also, I spent most of the day finishing The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman. I could not stop reading it. These are pretty audacious books, and extremely entertaining. I'll probably spend most of the day tomorrow reading The Amber Spyglass. I just picked up my hold from the public library - the trade paperback of Alan Moore's Watchmen. So that's what's coming down the pike.

Okay. Now it's 4:30 and I should start thinking about dinner. I am going to attempt to roast some of the potatoes that Michelle gave me from her family's farm, and hopefully I won't mess up a good thing.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

David Foster Wallace.

I'm writing and talking about this all over the place, and I doubt I have anything to add to the conversations others are having, but I have to post briefly about the death of David Foster Wallace. I wrote in June about his brilliant and humane way with words, and I am so sorry for his family and the world that he is gone. I can't help wondering how he would comment on what's being said about him. Quite selfishly, I will really miss what he might have said about everything that's happening and is going to happen.

I think this article by Laura Miller is a lot more eloquent than anything further I could say. Like her, I think I would probably say that he was my favorite living writer.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Promised Land

Earlier this week, Dar Williams' new album Promised Land came out. I've really been looking forward to it. I always look forward to her albums, but I'm also hoping that I'll get a parallel situation going: the last time I bought a new Dar album (My Better Self in 2005), I was also unemployed, and I got a job within a couple of weeks. Anyway, I thought I'd post my (probably rambling) thoughts on it, writing as an uninformed music critic, but a semi-rabid fan since 2000.

There's this trend, whether fairly or unfairly applied, about folk singers who stray from their young acoustic roots and end up in adult-contemporary territory writing only about their kids. Not that there's anything necessarily inherently wrong with that. I think Dar's 2000 album The Green World (my personal favorite) marked a transition from what I've heard her call songs written hunched over her futon. The same intelligent lyrics and emotional accessibility were there, just with sort of a wider range, thematically and musically.

Okay, I'm really starting to get pretentious now, but I'll just say I think Dar does the same things well on this new album. I like it better than the two albums that came after The Green World - this one is a lot more even, and I like the covers and guest musicians better. It seems like there's a confidence that wasn't quite there in My Better Self.

Okay, so let's get into the album. I'd heard a number of these songs before, at shows or on radio broadcasts. All of them benefit from additional instrumentation and voices on the album, especially "Buzzer" - except maybe for "The Easy Way." It's got this bouncy percussion that ups the tempo a little that I'm not a huge fan of. The Dar-and-Suzanne Vega oohs and ahhhs in the background, though, are lovely.

There are a couple of songs, as usual, about morally challenging times - "Buzzer," about Stanley Milgram's obedience experiments, and "Holly Tree," about the monetary motives behind the Salem witch trials. There are also two covers - "Midnight Radio" from Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and "Troubled Times" by Fountains of Wayne. "Midnight Radio" is a lovely song and fits Dar's voice well; according to her liner notes, she went to college with the song's writer, Stephen Trask. "Troubled Times" is a nice surprise. Covers are a gamble, and I don't particularly like Fountains of Wayne, but I do like this song, and Dar makes it more buoyant, smoothes out the lyrics into actual musical phrases. There are songs that I wasn't that into on first listen that are seriously growing on me ("Go to the Woods" and "Book of Love") and ones that I can tell are going to be solid favorites ("You are Everyone," which is just beautiful, and "It's Alright," which was on an EP Dar released a couple of weeks ago).

The subject matter as a whole is a little darker and more conscious of mortality than her earlier songs. "The Tide Falls Away" and the last song, "Summerday," are both acknowledgments that everything erodes and passes and dies, that no land lasts forever. "Summerday" could have been a sentimental song about the afterlife, but instead, it's about the much more real way generations of people come and go and do different things to the world. Like, the only promise land or anything else can offer.

Sorry that was so long. You can listen to the whole tracks of "It's Alright" and "Troubled Times" on Dar's myspace page, and you can buy the album on iTunes. You can also buy the physical album, which has a lot of gorgeous artwork in it by various artists that live in the Hudson Highlands, Dar's neck of the woods.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Take a letter, Maria

A couple of weeks ago, I read most of a collected volume of Vita Sackville-West's letters to Virginia Woolf. I guess I was thinking there would be a lot of love letters. There are some, but most of them are full of news and "business" - the kinds of things people communicate by phone (though they did have phones, and called each other occasionally) and e-mail today. More than one professor I had in college wondered aloud if modern writers would ever warrant "the collected e-mails of..."

The thing about Vita's letters is that they're full of references to letter-writing itself, especially the time and distance involved. She was often in Persia, where she would finish letters quickly saying that the only post for a week was about to come. In January 1926, she wrote:

…letters are the devil, disregarding Einstein and being subservient to so fallacious a thing as time, e.g. if you write to me in Persia and say you have got the ague it is no use my writing back to say I’m so sorry, because by the time you get it you’ll have recovered, whereas if I write from the Weald you’ll still be wretched when you get it and my condolence will be of some slight grain of use, but my feelings will be the same, whether in Persia or the Weald. (p. 84)

In September 1925, she writes about the physical difference between writing and reading a letter:

I like the sense of one lighted room in the house while all the rest of the house, and the world outside, is in darkness. Just one lamp falling on my paper; it gives a concentration, an intimacy. What bad mediums letters are; you will read this in daylight, and everything will look different.” (p. 68)

Is there a parallel to this in modern communication? Certainly, there can be gaps of time between the writing and reading of a text message or e-mail, but it's always possible to read what's been written nearly instantaneously. Does this mean that the writer's meaning is more closely approximated? I don't know, but it's very interesting to me.

I just finished reading Northanger Abbey, in which Henry Tilney gives a typically Austenian backhanded compliment that women are superior letter-writers:

As far as I have had opportunity of judging, it appears to me that the usual style of letter-writing among women is faultless, except in three particulars….A general deficiency of subject, a total inattention to stops, and a very frequent ignorance of grammar. (p. 23)

I have to confess, I was a little bit surprised to find grammar and punctuation errors in Virginia Woolf's letters (especially absent apostrophes), but hey. Who cares, when the prose is so perfect? Vita knew what was up:

A curious fact: nearly all letters seem to contain at least one irritating phrase, but yours never. They leave one feeling more intelligent, charming, and desirable than one actually is. (p. 122)

Okay, I'm going to end this rambly post with one of Virginia Woolf's letters, from September 1929, reprinted in the volume, that I think is pretty awesome. Maybe few will agree with me, but there's something about it I love.

A thousand congratulations from us both.
I daresay these are the happiest days of your life.
No, alas, I go to London on Friday not Thursday.
Yes, very pleased about Kings Daughter.
Thank Goodness, no more dealing with Lady S.
Yes I’ve signed my name 600 times.
Yes, I’ve read Hugh.
Why need he say all his characters are dead, when its true?
How business this letter is!
And looks like a sonnet.

All quotations from:
DeSalvo, Louise, and Mitchell A. Leaska, Eds. The Letters of Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1985.

except Jane Austen quotation, from:
Austen, Jane. Northanger Abbey. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 2000.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

I miss writing English papers.... here you go. Today's poem on Poetry Daily was "It Is the Rising I Love" by Linda Gregg, and I just wanted to post it, in large part as a reminder to myself of the kind of poem I'd like to be able to write. The poem progresses in this seamless way; my narratives always seem either horribly predictable or abrupt and broken. Recurring elements like...well, the elements aren't heavy-handed or repetitive. The line breaks are pretty great, too. And the first two lines are so wonderful: they're a combination ars poetica and defense of poetry without sacrificing language or rhythm.

Those who know my proclivity for "depressing" poems and songs have a case for accusing me of the same with the subject matter of this poem, but I don't know that it's totally depressing. To me, it's an acknowledgement of what it's like to be human and mortal. Humans aren't gods, or elements, or animals (none of which can produce poetry). We are limited by struggle and suffering and desire. I love this poem because Gregg says all this, but she says it in an eloquent and subtle way.

It Is the Rising I Love
by Linda Gregg

As long as I struggle to float above the ground
and fail, there is reason for this poetry.
On the stone back of Ludovici's throne, Venus
is rising from the water. Her face and arms
are raised, and the two women trained in the ways
of the world help her rise, covering her
nakedness with a cloth at the same time.
It is the rising I love, from no matter what element
to the one above. She from water to land,
me from earth to air as if I had a soul.
Helped by prayers and not by women, I say
(ascending in all my sexual glamour), see my body
bathed in light and air. See me rise like a flame,
like the sun, moon, stars, birds, wind. In light.
In dark. But I never achieve it. I get on my knees
this gray April to see if open crocuses have a smell.
I must live in the suffering and desire of what
rises and falls. The terrible blind grinding
of gears against our bodies and lives.

The poem comes from Gregg's book All of It Singing: New and Selected Poems from Graywolf Press.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Answer: This is how Elizabeth spends her weekday afternoons.

For the first month or two I was back in the Chicago area, I kept forgetting to watch Jeopardy!, since it's on at 3:30 instead of later in the evening like most of the rest of the country. Now I remember, and I've been watching every day for the past couple of weeks. I saw the end of the Tournament of Champions, the Teen Tournament, and right now, the College Championship.

I love Jeopardy. I really do. It takes me back to the glory days of my high school academic team, which was a really good time. I know it has its flaws. The judging of close-but-not-right answers is pretty uneven. The judges wouldn't accept "Memories" for "Memory," but allowed someone to pronounce "Colbert" in an Anglicized way. Its biggest flaw, as far as I'm concerned, is the "chat" section between Alex Trebek and the contestants. I usually mute this because I think it's just embarrassing for everyone.

The younger contestants seem to enjoy this part a lot more, which can make me either cringe more than at the older contestants, or endear them to me. There was one kid in the Teen Tournament that I particularly liked, because he was sort of gently making fun of the cheesiness of the whole thing - making an overly enthusiastic face for the camera, poking fun at Alex's puns. He was still into the competition, though, and he was really mad at himself when he wagered all his money on a Daily Double and lost it. (The question was about which Czech playwright later became prime minister - which was a staple in the Jefferson County Public Schools academic competition question sets.)

It also amazes me what some of the contestants can't answer. During the Tournament of Champions, no one could identify what band made the album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. The college champions were unable to name the director of Sicko, or fill in the blank in the following lyrics: "____ singing in the dead of night." I am terrible with pop culture references, but even I know those.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Authority control

It's been a while since I got all library-geek in here, probably because I'm neither in school anymore nor working at a library (still) (yet). Two little news items caught my eye recently, though, about the automated matching of terms on the Internet. The first is from Steve Johnson's August 13 column "Hypertext" in the Chicago Tribune:

From the People Are Still Smarter Than Computers Department: After the Russians invaded the Republic of Georgia last week, the Valleywag blog captured Google News displaying alongside its story on the attack a Google Maps image of Savannah and environs. Does that mean they'd also have the details on Gen. Sherman's march to the Black Sea?

The second is from the BBC's website; it's a much longer article, so I'll just post the link - but the city council of Birmingham in England printed up a bunch of leaflets about recycling, and the picture of the city skyline on them was of Birmingham, Alabama. I don't know how the city council got the photo, but I imagine it had something to do with an Internet search that couldn't differentiate the two Birminghams.

For those of you who know this already, sorry to come off condescending, but librarians call this kind of differentiation authority control. You see it in the Library of Congress subject headings all the time - it tells you if a book is by this John Smith or that John Smith, or if the word "records" refers to LPs, archives, or electronic catalog records. The only way to get authority control in a vast amount of information seems to be to have humans do it - so far, anyway. I did read an article in cataloging class about assigning algorithms that would say, okay, when "apple" is near computer words, it's probably talking about Apple computers, and when it's near words about food or farming, it's talking about the fruit. That's certainly not foolproof, but on the other hand, no one's going to index the Internet. Librarians have definitely tried.

This could get very metaphysical, obviously. The meanings of words are personal, and political, and obviously up for debate. And no system is going to be able to control for metaphorical and other creative uses of words - what would that algorithm do with "apple of my eye?" I can't decide if this whole thing gives me hope that humans do a superior job of organizing information and people will recognize this, or if people will just be content with incorrect and incomplete information. Something tells me the latter is probably more likely.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

The sands of convention

Earlier this week, I finished The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall. And just to preface: I recognize that this book has been written about, a lot, by people much more intelligent and well-read than I, but I just thought I'd record my thoughts. This has been a summer of trying to fill in fundamental gaps in my reading, books that are foundations or landmarks or classics. The Well of Loneliness is a dubious sort of classic, I guess. It's one of those books that is remembered much more for its social impact than its artistic quality...which in this case I'd have to say is sort of justified. The writing is sentimental and melodramatic, and you can see the next event in the plot coming from a mile away. But the whole thing is just so earnest. As is made clear by events in the book, the issues she writes about are a matter of life and death to some, and of happiness and unhappiness at the very least.

And okay, I have to admit, a lot of the information I got about the book's publication history and its place in the gay canon came from its Wikipedia article. But the ciations are very good. The general consensus seems to be that the novel was groundbreaking, that those who publicly condemned it ended up only raising awareness of homosexuality - that at one point in time it was many young women's only accessible representation of lesbians. I'm sure that many people in 2008 find its various stances antiquated and harmful to understanding and civil rights. While Hall is insistent that "inversion" is part of nature and not chosen behavior (which I guess was part of what scandalized people), she also has this prescriptive "good gay" attitude that "inverts" should be model citizens to show the rest of the world that homosexuality isn't just one symptom of inherent weakness of character. Puddle, the main character Stephen's governess and a major closet case, imagines telling her:

“…you’re as much a part of what people call nature as anyone else; only you’re unexplained as yet – you’ve not got your niche in creation. But some day that will come, and meanwhile don’t shrink from yourself….above all be honourable. Cling to your honour for the sake of those others who share the same burden. For their sakes show the world that people like you and they can be quite as selfless and fine as the rest of mankind.” (173)

There is also, however, a repeated anger at the world's hypocrisy that could very well have been written today:

“Yes, it was trying to get her under, this world with its mighty self-satisfaction, with its smug rules of conduct…They sinned grossly; even vilely at times, like lustful beasts – but yet they were normal! And the vilest of them could point a finger of scorn at her, and be loudly applauded.” (289)

Then there's this sentence, which jumped out at me from the long descriptions of nature and the symbolism that tends to sledgehammer you over the head:

“Outrageous…that wilfully selfish tyranny of silence evolved by a crafty old ostrich of a world for its own well-being and comfort. The world hid its head in the sands of convention, so that seeing nothing it might avoid Truth.” (135)

This thought doesn't just apply to homosexuality, of course. I've been thinking a lot lately about conventions and how much people buy into them. I think it is getting better in a lot of ways. But a lot of people still have nostalgia for a simpler time that never actually existed. I'm reminded of a visit to the Susan B. Anthony house when I was thirteen or fourteen, and someone with me said, "They never mentioned her husband." I said, "Um...she was a lesbian." She said, "Elizabeth, they didn't have lesbians back then."

I guess I'll end there. I really have a lot more to say on the subject, but other people have said it way better than I would, and have actually done their research. So you get that muddled quasi-essay, and maybe I'll write again soon about Jeopardy or the book I'm reading now, The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould, which is, in tone, the polar opposite of The Well of Loneliness.

All quotations from Radclyffe Hall, The Well of Loneliness. New York: Sun Dial Press, 1928.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Collision course

I am basically just updating to link to my new "mix tape," Nothing Else Will Do. This playlist has, um, kind of a theme, and I apologize for that. It's very "love-ity-love," to quote Neko Case in Poetry. The word "love" is actually in 25% of the song titles. I didn't mean for that to happen, though.

One of the songs on there is a live version of a song I assume will be on Dar Williams' new album (which I heard was called Spring Again, but her official website tells me is called Promised Land). It's called "The Easy Way," and I can't stop listening to it. The line in the chorus is "I never took the easy way," which she follows in the last chorus with "because you know that easy's never easy anyhow." This got me thinking about a Wallace Stevens line (and I can't remember what poem it comes from) that I was reading the other day: "A revolution of things colliding." These two lines converging on each other lead me to the conclusion that things are never easy, even when (and maybe especially when) you try really hard to make them so; inertia is as volatile as intentional change; and what other kind of revolution is there, except when things collide?

That is pretty muddled, but it's a little snapshot of my state of mind lately. It's very mid-twenties-living at home-getting all kinds of advice from everyone.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A step into the unknown

I've been reading Scheherezade Goes West by Fatema Mernissi, which Clare lent to me. There are a lot of interesting ideas in it about men and women and art and culture, some of which I'm skeptical of - but as Clare and I were saying to each other today, one of the author's main points is that travelers and scholars need to let themselves hear ideas contradictory to their own minds and cultures, maybe live in those ideas for a little while and get uncomfortable. So I'm trying. And, as usual, I tend to zero in on sections of books that I find the most relevant or interesting, regardless of their relation to the whole work, so here's a passage that I felt like coming back to:

One fourteenth-century writer, Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziya, who took the trouble to count up the words in Arabic that can be used to say "I love you," came up with a list of sixty, which he compiled into a book....On his list were many words that refer to love as a dangerous moment of mental confusion (khabal), or disorientation (futun) as a plunge in to the a privileged friendship....
Love pushes you to go beyond your usual routine and into directions you might not otherwise have taken. Which brings us back to our list. Many of the sixty words describe love as a compelling voyage (huyam), a step into the unknown (ghamarat), an adventure in alien territories.
(pp. 125-127)

This reminds me a little of an electronic conversation I was having recently about people's belief in the capacity of love to change situations, minds, or lives. It's something (in my experience) that people are often willing to believe in fiction (e.g., every ridiculous romantic comedy ever made), but not in real life - where sacrifice and upheaval for the sake of love can be viewed as weak or dependent. Then, of course, there are cases of real dependence, but - I think I'll stop this chain of backpedaling here. My point is: the second paragraph, especially, of the above passage resonated with me. Not that I'm thinking of anything specific.

I'm allowing myself to think that things are looking up. I have a few job leads, and a backup plan in case none of them pans out. Tomorrow, I'm going to the Newberry Library Book Fair for the fourth year in a row, though I probably shouldn't be buying a lot of books at this point. In the next month, I'll be traveling to Louisville and Rochester, and hopefully (finally) editing my school paper on indexing Sylvia Plath's poems down to a publishable size. I'm also reading (alongside Mernissi) Radclyffe Hall's classic The Well of Loneliness - which is a nice light beach read. So I'll let you know how that goes.

Also, just for fun, here's my entry about the Pitchfork Music Festival.

Quotation from: Mernissi, Fatema. Scheherezade Goes West. New York: Washington Square Press, 2001.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Johnny Sunshine

See what I did there? I promised you an ALA update, or even multiple ones, and I did not deliver. Sorry. I actually don't really have a lot to say about it. As I said before, I was much more excited to see Ryan and Michelle than about the conference, though it did have its highlights. The trip is sort of this long chain of sun and driving and mountains and laughing hysterically. Now that I'm back (I have been since Friday), I'm feeling pretty lackluster. I got rejected from another job by mail, though I did make one possible employment connection at ALA (the California Department of Corrections).

Since I've been back, I've restarted my reading of Lolita. I'm sure this is the reaction many people have to it, but I find myself incredibly ambivalent and uncomfortable. It's obviously very, very, well-written. I'll be reading along and sort of slip into the voice and think, okay, I can see this guy's humanity, and then Humbert will say something to remind me, like, hey, he could use Lolita to breed a daughter and granddaughter he could also rape.

Well, there's your brief and cheery update. I have some backed-up stuff I could write about, like the Liz Phair show I saw right before I left - okay, it was awesome, there's your post about that. Aside from the obvious musical awesomeness, that woman can pull off a vest-and-shorts combo like nobody's business.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Traveling Again (Traveling I)

Just a quick post; I have to finish packing for California. I'm leaving in less than 24 hours, and I'm excited to the point of being unbearable to other people, I think. My mom keeps talking to me about the conference, but I'm mostly excited for a week with my friends Ryan and Michelle. I haven't seen them in a month, but it feels way longer.

I'm really anxious about flying, though, as usual. And also about the flurry of interviews that's gone on the past few weeks. While I'm there, I might get offered a job in Louisville or Chicago. I might not, of course, but I'll tell you one thing - I am interviewed out. For once, I'm sick of talking about myself (though, apparently, not of writing about myself).

I re-read Harriet the Spy the past two nights; I came across it while cleaning out a closet. It's my mom's copy from when she was young, and the covers are missing and there's underlining throughout. I forgot how much I liked that book, and really, how sort of unusual and honest it is. There isn't a particularly happy ending or a moral. One of the last lines is "sometimes you have to lie" (which my mother underlined). Did any of you read this book when you were kids?

On another note, here's a link to my journal entry entitled "The Best Mix Tape Ever." Clare made it for my 18th birthday, and it definitely stands the test of time.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A little knowledge

Just a quick post to give you the below Toothpaste for Dinner comic. I'm about to finish The Fall and possibly reread Harriet the Spy, so you may be hearing about those books soon.

toothpaste for dinner

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Kate Chopin and Elton John...together at last

Right now, I'm trying to catch up on and update things. Here's an enumeration of some of those things....

1. I've updated my blogs on the sidebar to include my friend Ryan's new blog, as well as the resurrected Las Poetas Desesperadas. Check them out.

2. Periodically, I make mixes for myself that reflect my current state and whatever I've been listening to obsessively. Well now, thanks to the Internet, you can share in these creations. I'll have them at this site called muxtape. The current one is called "Don't let the sun..." The site only allows 12 songs per mix, so I had to leave off two songs ("Pitseleh" by Elliott Smith and "The Sun" by Mirah). But it's still a pretty good one, I think.

3. I'm trying to fill in what seem like unforgivable holes in my reading, and I'm starting with The Awakening by Kate Chopin - I'm about 75% through. I have mixed feelings about it, and maybe that's because I'm living in this quasi-post-third-wave of feminism. When I think about the novel in terms of a person who has been given no choices, deciding that she'll give them to herself, it is pretty powerful. The fact that Edna is so self-absorbed could be seen, I guess, as a product of that. It's hard not to like passages like this:

It sometimes entered Mr. Pontellier's mind to wonder if his wife were not growing a little unbalanced mentally. He could see plainly that she was not herself. That is, he could not see that she was becoming herself and daily casting aside that fictitious self which we assume like a garment with which to appear before the world.

I can also relate, having recently left one place for another, to this passage:

[T]he thought of him was like an obsession, ever pressing itself upon her. It was not that she dwelt upon details of their acquaintance, or recalled in any special or peculiar way his personality; it was his being, his existence, which dominated her thought, fading sometimes as if it would melt into the mist of the forgotten, reviving again with an intensity which filled her with an incomprehensible longing.

That's all for now. I may or may not write before the American Library Association conference at the end of June, but don't worry - you'll be hearing about it.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Back to a room more full of books

It has been a very long time, and I apologize to anyone who was on pins and needles waiting for the next entry (doubtful). In the last month and a half, I finished library school and - finding myself without a job quite yet - have moved from my Boston dorm back to my mom's house in the Chicago suburbs.

The culture and various other shocks have been mitigated by the fact I've been kept quite busy: applying for jobs, preparing to go to the ALA conference in Anaheim at the end of the month, making trips into the city. I revisited places in Chicago I like (Wrigley Field, the Intelligentsia on Jackson St.), and went to ones I've been meaning to visit: the National Museum of Mexican Art, the main (Harold Washington) branch of the Chicago Public Library.

Now, I can't help but compare the main branches of the CPL and the Boston Public Library. They're very different, and I didn't actually try to locate items at the CPL, but it feels like it functions better as a library. The BPL has its two buildings - the old and beautiful and the new and stark - and the shelves are always a big mess.

The Harold Washington, however (at left) has apparently been redone lately. It was clean and orderly, but still lovely, with an indoor courtyard sort of thing on the top floor (it has nine smaller floors to the BPL's sprawling four or five). There's just almost a feeling in the new BPL building that this is what you get - good luck finding what you need. The staff is always pretty grim-looking, too. This is probably a funding issue, I would imagine. I will say, though, there's nothing at the CPL on the order of the BPL's reading room (pictured in an earlier post). (The image is a public one from flickr.)

I've also managed to read a little bit - I'm almost done working through a Christmas present, David Foster Wallace's collection of essays Consider the Lobster. Every time I read DFW's writing, I wonder why I bother reading anyone else. The one I found most interesting (of course) is "Authority and American Usage," a sort of descendant of "Politics and the English Language" (which he quotes and acknowledges). Everything that he writes about receives the same scrutinizing and humane treatment. If he's a snob, he examines the reasons for that (especially in "Authority and American Usage").

He also manages to write about politics and voting without coming off all soapboxy; I will leave you with an example from a 2000 article for Rolling Stone.

If you are bored and disgusted by politics and don't bother to vote, you are in effect voting for the entrenched Establishments of the two major parties, who please rest assured are not dumb, and who are keenly aware that it is in their interests to keep you disgusted and bored and cynical and to give you every possible psychological reason to stay at home doing one-hitters and watching MTV on primary day. By all means stay home if you want, but don't bullshit yourself that you're not voting. In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard's vote.

from Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace, Back Bay Books, 2007.

Monday, April 14, 2008

April is poem time

Just a brief entry, I'm afraid. The time is draining rapidly from this semester.

Here we are again in National Poetry Month. We're halfway through it, in fact, and have I posted any poems? No. So here's one for you. As you may have guessed, it's by Sylvia Plath. I had a hard time picking just one - but a lot of the ones I've been marveling over are pretty long (Three Women, Poem for a Birthday, Tulips), so I just chose one whose skill I forgot about until I read it again. The last three lines are so good I can't stand it.


by Sylvia Plath

Nobody in the lane, and nothing, nothing but blackberries,
Blackberries on either side, though on the right mainly,
A blackberry alley, going down in hooks, and a sea
Somewhere at the end of it, heaving. Blackberries
Big as the ball of my thumb, and dumb as eyes
Ebon in the hedges, fat
With blue-red juices. These they squander on my fingers.
I had not asked for such a blood sisterhood; they must love me.
They accommodate themselves to my milkbottle, flattening their sides.

Overhead go the choughs in black, cacophonous flocks ---
Bits of burnt paper wheeling in a blown sky.
Theirs is the only voice, protesting, protesting.
I do not think the sea will appear at all.
The high, green meadows are glowing, as if lit from within.
I come to one bush of berries so ripe it is a bush of flies,
Hanging their bluegreen bellies and their wing panes in a Chinese screen.
The honey-feast of the berries has stunned them; they believe in heaven.
One more hook, and the berries and bushes end.

The only thing to come now is the sea.
From between two hills a sudden wind funnels at me,
Slapping its phantom laundry in my face.
These hills are too green and sweet to have tasted salt.
I follow the sheep path between them. A last hook brings me
To the hills' northern face, and the face is orange rock
That looks out on nothing, nothing but a great space
Of white and pewter lights, and a din like silversmiths
Beating and beating at an intractable metal.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

You and me both, kid

Okay, entries have been a little thin this semester. Part of it's busyness, of course, but part of it is that I've been so much more enamored of others' words than my own. Lately, I've been encountering songs, poems, people, etc., that remind me of something either deep or superficial. This has always happened; it just seems more concentrated lately. On the superficial level, for example, a guy who looks just like my friend Andrew asked me for directions in front of MIT today. In the thick of my indexing project, I read the poem "Above the Oxbow" for probably the first time since I was thirteen and had no idea about the Summit House and the Connecticut River Valley, where the poem takes place - now those places are dear to me and already in the past.

I also keep coming across these phrases and songs that resonate with me on a very specific level. Sometimes it's in Sylvia Plath's journals; just before a birthday, for instance, she vows to herself to enter her second quarter-century in Boston and to live "to the hilt." (Here in Boston, I turn twenty-five soon.) Then there are the songs that have appeared on the radio and All Songs Considered, that I never heard before and made it onto my latest playlist: "Bottle Up and Explode!" by Elliott Smith, "Gray or Blue" by Jaymay, "To Be Alive and Alone" by Troubled Hubble.

The title of this post, however, comes from a line (which I think is correct; I consulted the resident expert) from a song to which I cannot stop listening: "Failsafe" by the New Pornographers. I realized I didn't really know what the word means, so (being me) I went to the OED, which describes it as a situation in which something "revert[s], in the event of failure or breakdown, to a condition involving no danger." Failure, basically, that is still failure, but causes a minimum of harm to all involved. It's an appropriate goal for me.

I don't know how to embed a sound file, and I couldn't find a video of the New Pornographers singing this song, but below is a version by the Choir Practice, which is the first version of the song I heard anyway.

I just have to say one more thing, because Clare said I should put it on the blog, and she's right. I just want to say that I am not making fun of the girl in the story; I just thought what she said was funny. Last week I was at the reference desk, and a student came in asking how to get to articles online. I asked her what databases she'd been using, and she said, "Someone told me a really good one was JSTOR." But she pronounced it "j'stor," like "je t'aime." It was, you know, the wrong emphasis on the wrong syllable. Which people like me find hilarious.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Sitting between Gutenberg and Confucius

I am blogging to you live - not from anywhere terribly exciting like SXSW or anything - but from the Bates Hall Reading Room at the Boston Public Library. After lunch downtown, I made myself come here and do a Power Point (ugh) for a presentation I have to do next week. Even the Simmons library is somewhat distracting at this point. This is the quietest place I know. Somehow, in this large urban library where there is often noise and chaos within and without, in this room people are serious about their reduction of distraction. There is no talking or eating or even loud typing. Also, it's beautiful. It's one of those rooms with names of authors and artists and philosophers engraved in gold around the ceiling...the title reflects where I'm sitting. I don't have a camera with me, so an image from somewhere else will have to, looking at it while being here is so postmodern. Also, depending on where I get a job, I may not be in Boston in a couple of months, so I thought I should hit my favorite places before graduation.

Here it is:

Monday, March 10, 2008

Indexing, the art of

Sorry it's been a little while. Spring break started on Friday, and I took much of the weekend to give myself a psychic rest before jumping back into work (both employment and school).

The big project I'm working on this semester (for subject analysis) is a subject index to the collected poems of Sylvia Plath. I spent the first two weeks or so doing background reading, including a book by G. Norman Knight called Indexing, The Art of. The title should give you some idea of the author's approach...this guy is serious about his indexing, and his indexing jokes. There are some pretty amazing metaphors, like, “Subheadings are the vassals of their headings and should always…have a close connexion with their lords and masters" (p. 54).

A few pages earlier, he writes, “In a ‘literary’ index…such elaborate headings add a certain attractiveness, and an index in narrative form can indeed become readable and in parts even exciting” (46). Hopefully, that's what this index will amalgamation of what critic, poet, and indexer have to say about these poems.

And I forgot how good these poems are; I haven't read the whole book through since I first acquired it...I think for my fourteenth birthday, but I could be wrong. Take this stanza from the middle of "Tale of a Tub," which articulates so well the impossibility of escaping physical reality:

We take the plunge; under water our limbs
waver, faintly green, shuddering away
from the genuine color of skin; can our dreams
ever blur the intransigent lines which draw
the shape that shuts us in? absolute fact
intrudes even when the revolted eye
is closed; the tub exists behind our back:
its glittering surfaces are blank and true.

Looking back on this post, it's a little self-important and academic. Sorry about that; I'm getting all English major-y again with this project. I'm also producing poems at a much higher rate than I ever have while being in school (and not in a poetry workshop class): about concerts, the leap year, and the hallway at MIT called "the infinite corridor," among other things.

Quotations come from....
Knight, G. Norman. Indexing, The Art of. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1979.

Plath, Sylvia. The Collected Poems. New York: HarperPerennial, 1992.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The benefits of staying up late

The other night I was flipping channels restlessly about 1:30 and thought I'd go back to Conan O'Brien. Once I got there, I literally sat up in bed because I was immediately hooked by the guy with the ukulele on the screen. I didn't even know it was a ukulele, and it took me a painfully long time to come up with the title of the song - I was humming it a while before my brain fed me the words "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." Anyway, I was really struck by the performance; I can't put my finger on why. Apparently Conan was really into it, too, though - which only proves my theory that he and I should really hang out.

His name is Jake Shimabukuro, by the way. I had never heard of him, but that doesn't mean anything. Obviously.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Those we reach but can never touch

I read two poems recently that get at, if not answer, the sorts of things I've been thinking about lately, about how people relate to and love each other. I really love the first one, because it's not about a futuristic or even really a modern condition. It reminds me of Wallace Stevens' "Re-Statement of Romance," how the representations (including words) of things are never even close to what you wanted to express. And the phrase in the Rimbaud poem - "neither ardent nor timid" - really resonates with me. That's been true of me and of my life lately, and I feel like I should pick a side.

Science Fiction
by Les Murray

I can travel
faster than light
so can you
the speed of thought
the only trouble
is at destinations
our thought balloons
are coated invisible
no one there sees us
and we can't get out
to be real or present
phone and videophone
are almost worse
we don't see a journey
but stay in our space
just talking and joking
with those we reach
but can never touch
the nothing that can hurt us
how lovely and terrible
and lonely this is

by Arthur Rimbaud
translated by Vernon Watkins

It is rest full of light, neither fever nor languor, on the bed or on the road.

It is the friend, neither ardent nor timid. The friend.

It is the loved one, the fond, neither tormenting nor tormented. The loved one.

The air and the world all unexplored. Life.

-Was it then this?

-And the dream breaks afresh.

Murray poem from The New Yorker, 28 January 2008
Rimbaud poem from

Saturday, February 16, 2008

From today, March is just two weeks away

So I posted this to my profile, because it's music-related, but I thought I'd post it here too. Valentine's Day is over now, I've gotten over the halfway point of this consistently malaise-filled month, and I think this list is kind of funny. I don't exactly think any of these ways about love, but I have at one point or another.

The line in the post's title is not true this particular February 14, but it is in one of the songs on my (highly anticipated) Valentine's Day mix. It's subdivided into sections, because I'm pretentious. This is clearly not comprehensive, also.

Part I: There Is No Love, Only Sex
Fuck and Run - Liz Phair
The Taste of You - Erin McKeown
Sin Wagon - Dixie Chicks
I Don't Love Anyone - Belle & Sebastian
Hey Ya - Outkast
Mr. Right Now - the Nields

Part II: Maybe There's Love, But It's Probably Fucked-Up
Leather - Tori Amos
Mary Kay - Jill Sobule
Lily (My One and Only) - Smashing Pumpkins
Divorce Song - Liz Phair

Part III: I Don't Quite Get Love But I Wish I Did
Last Kisses - the Nields
As Is - Ani DiFranco
February - Dar Williams
Love, Love, Love - the Organ

Part IV: I Want Love (Just a Different Kind)
If You See the One - Rebecca Katz
As Cool as I Am - Dar Williams
Polyester Bride - Liz Phair
I Want Love - Elton John

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

I think I'll pass on this one

So, the other day I was looking at library jobs, which I do fairly compulsively lately, and I came across a posting to be a librarian at the US Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay. It's really long, so I thought I'd post a few lines from it. Aside from a lot of standard library functions, there are these requirements:

The Librarian serves as and directs the overall library operation providing mission, education, and quality of life support to all base personnel, their families, and retirees. (Is "mission support" support for missions the personnel are sent on? Or is this more of a "mission statement" of the naval base?)

Monitors funding allocations, meets expenditure targets, and justifies unfunded requirements. (This last phrase intrigues me. I mean, I guess this is what public libraries do all the time, but I've never seen it laid so bare.)

The last line of the posting is:
Occupants of this position must maintain the privacy of official work information and data and demonstrate the highest level of ethical conduct.

Do I even need to say anything about that? I recognize that individuals and government policy are two separate things, but I'm just really curious about the librarian who would both subscribe to the ALA Bill of Rights and take this job.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

That teenage feeling

Last night I went with a friend to see Neko Case in concert at the Calvin Theatre in Northampton. Someone else had told me she had the most beautiful voice he'd ever heard in person, and he was not kidding around. I've never heard anything like it. We were up in the second row of the balcony, and I was pretty much pinned against the back of my seat by this gorgeous wall of sound. And her songs are so sad, and funny, and real - the kind of truth that keeps following you and won't let you forget how uncomfortably close to you it is.

Anyway, it's like waking up the day after prom or something. (I didn't go to prom, but I'm trying to make a metaphor here.) I couldn't sleep; I don't want to do homework or even apply for this amazing job I saw an ad for on Friday. I'm thinking of roaming the greater Boston area with my iPod and being emo.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The library school student at a party

I've had a variation on this conversation a couple of times in the last couple of days. My friend Michelle and I are discussing laminating it on a card and handing it out at parties to preempt people. Not that we're bitter. Our working theory is that people don't ask these sorts of questions of, say, investment bankers because it's obvious why someone would want to be an investment banker (i.e., big piles of money). Librarianship, however, remains a veiled mystery to some, as you shall see.

OTHER PERSON: So, what do you do?
ME: I'm in grad school.
OP: Oh, for what?
ME: Library science.
OP: You have to have a master's for that?
ME: To be a professional librarian, yeah.
OP: Huh. So what are your classes about? The Dewey Decimal System? [Melvil Dewey is invariably mentioned.]
ME: Um, not really. [I try to explain a class I'm currently taking and why I find it cool.]
OP: Well. How'd you get interested in that?
ME: That's a good question.
OP: Do you really like to read?
ME: Yeah, but that's not really why. [I try to explain access to and organization of information succinctly. This rarely works.]

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Last of the pre-semester pleasure reading

Last night I finally finished What is the What by Dave Eggers. If you didn't know, it's a novel based heavily on the story of Valentino Achak Deng, one of the "lost boys of Sudan." There's really not a whole lot I can say about the book without trivializing the unforgivable things that happen to Valentino and other children. Eggers did choose an interesting and effective way to frame the novel, and the narrative is devastatingly paced - the way this boy's life must have been. Each event just punches you in the chest. It's difficult to say if I recommend the book, or if I liked it. Basically, it just made me think about the utter pointlessness of this (and many other) conflicts, the way people use each other for retaliation, for volume of destruction. It's despicable.

Switching gears entirely. A friend of mine came back into town recently and lent me The Bell Jar on CD, as read by Maggie Gyllenhaal. I was pretty excited; MG is one of my favorite actresses. I read The Bell Jar probably when I was about fifteen or sixteen, and it had a huge impact on me. Hearing it again, I realized how good it is, how well-written. There are those unmistakable Sylvia Plath metaphors, like comparing some fixture (a lamp, I think) to a "death's head." And Gyllenhaal is really great at the tone - there are times when she'll pause between words and it's perfect. She also sounds, a good deal of the time, like the recordings I've heard of Plath reading her poems - a low voice, dropping each word as if she couldn't wait to get it out of her, was a little disgusted by it. Plath, though, always sounds older, though she only lived to be thirty. Hearing Maggie Gyllenhaal is like what I imagine this young college-age Plath sounded like. It's pretty spectacular.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Thank you Arts & Letters Daily

Here's a really interesting article about marriage, thanks to Arts & Letters Daily. It touches on a couple of questions I was wondering about after reading that Lillian Rubin book.

That's all.

Want to help me with my homework?

So, this spring I'm taking a course in subject analysis, which is...just what it sounds like, I guess. It includes the concepts of indexing, abstracting, and determining the "subject(s)" of a work, whether that work be a book, website, painting, etc. There's a big old project due at the end of the class, and I need to decide what I'm doing it on in the next few weeks.

From the assignment description:
"Examples of projects include databases (using any database management system), subject indexes to collections of Web resources, modified or newly developed thesauri, single-item indexes, and so on."

I found two examples of what people had done in the past; one was an index to a novel, the other a thesaurus (or controlled vocabulary) in the area of typography.

Why am I talking about this? Because I can't decide what to do. I was thinking about doing some collection of poems or letters, maybe a small archival collection (though I'd want to have more access to it than M-F 9-5). It has to be not already indexed, obviously. So, if any of you wonderful people out there have resources you need subject-analyzed or indexed, just tell me, and it could be a win-win situation. I'll come up with something eventually, but it would be cool if I could actually do something useful.

That's all for this afternoon. I lied again about writing about Dave Eggers! An entry on him will be forthcoming, as will discussions of my other courses (which start next week).

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Just friends

So, I said quite a while ago that I would write about a recently-read book, Just Friends by Lillian B. Rubin. Rubin conducted interviews with 300 people about their friendships, following up by contacting the people participants named as "friends." (There was a recent episode of This American Life, "The Ties That Bind," that also addressed the question of what we call "friends." It was really good.) I've had the book for awhile, but I'm glad I read it now, because I've been thinking a lot about human relationships: love, marriage, friendship, sex, and romance - and how all those things intersect. The idea, for instance (pretty common in our current society) that one person should fulfill all of these roles and needs for another one - is that harmful? Is it putting too much pressure on one person and relationship? I'm not sure.

Two short passages from the book address this question:
1. "The belief, so common in our society, that the new mate will satisfy all our needs makes it easier to set friends off to the side, to diminish their importance in the immediate afterglow of marriage when such expectations are highest." (118-119) (Rubin found that later on in marriage - or after divorce - friends seem more important again. All of these findings are, of course, highly generalized.)
2. A quote from a participant: "Just like there isn't a perfect friend, there isn't a perfect husband or lover. That's why people need both, and if they don't have them, there's going to be trouble." (141)

All right, I can totally understand that. But what about these ways we define our relationships with other people? I started thinking about this when I was flipping through a Christmas present, The Girl's Guide to Everything (which I think will be most useful for the car and financial advice). The "friendship" section, however, had a little sidebar that I can't quote exactly (not having it at hand), but it was something like, don't get confused or alarmed when you make a new friend and get really excited about her, as if you're falling in love. You're not gay - it's just the flush of new friendship. Talk about labels. One participant in Rubin's study, a psychologist, said, "I suppose there's a sexual tinge to every human relationship of any depth or intensity...." (105) - and I'm more inclined to agree with that. This is probably going to sound idealistic or foolish, but I think a day is coming when in order to have a measure of peace or happiness, we're going to have to admit that some of these set-up dichotomies (male/female, straight/gay, friend/spouse) are not exactly representative of people's real lives and experiences.

Okay, congratulations on reading all those really muddled thoughts. It's a huge question, obviously, and this book is just one perspective from one discipline. I also just want to say that I don't think monogamy (or marriage) is wrong or outdated or naive. Arrangements or denials of love depend upon the people in them.

Next time, less soapboxing, more Dave Eggers and Adam Felber. I promise.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

It's starting to get a little political in here.

I'm going to come back in a day or two and write about the new year and everything that's meant, as well as about the book I'm reading (Just Friends by Lillian Rubin), but for now, this:

I am reproducing the below editorial by Gloria Steinem in full because I'm pretty sure the NY Times takes down their links after a few days, and I found it really interesting and wanted to share it. Ms. Steinem and I might not support the same candidate, but I think she makes a lot of excellent points, and answers the questions that spring to mind when reading ("I'm not advocating a competition for who has it toughest"). It's interesting to me that one thing that "worries" her is that young women have this sort of backlash of hoping "to deny or escape the sexual caste system." While this isn't my personal reason for not supporting Hillary Clinton, I know the feeling. It's like (some, not all) young feminists are so tired of being shot down (the "we're all equal now" counter-argument) that they can't rustle up the outrage that the situation of women - even in this country - should provoke.

Women Are Never Front-Runners

by Gloria Steinem

THE woman in question became a lawyer after some years as a community organizer, married a corporate lawyer and is the mother of two little girls, ages 9 and 6. Herself the daughter of a white American mother and a black African father — in this race-conscious country, she is considered black — she served as a state legislator for eight years, and became an inspirational voice for national unity.

Be honest: Do you think this is the biography of someone who could be elected to the United States Senate? After less than one term there, do you believe she could be a viable candidate to head the most powerful nation on earth?

If you answered no to either question, you’re not alone. Gender is probably the most restricting force in American life, whether the question is who must be in the kitchen or who could be in the White House. This country is way down the list of countries electing women and, according to one study, it polarizes gender roles more than the average democracy.

That’s why the Iowa primary was following our historical pattern of making change. Black men were given the vote a half-century before women of any race were allowed to mark a ballot, and generally have ascended to positions of power, from the military to the boardroom, before any women (with the possible exception of obedient family members in the latter).

If the lawyer described above had been just as charismatic but named, say, Achola Obama instead of Barack Obama, her goose would have been cooked long ago. Indeed, neither she nor Hillary Clinton could have used Mr. Obama’s public style — or Bill Clinton’s either — without being considered too emotional by Washington pundits.

So why is the sex barrier not taken as seriously as the racial one? The reasons are as pervasive as the air we breathe: because sexism is still confused with nature as racism once was; because anything that affects males is seen as more serious than anything that affects “only” the female half of the human race; because children are still raised mostly by women (to put it mildly) so men especially tend to feel they are regressing to childhood when dealing with a powerful woman; because racism stereotyped black men as more “masculine” for so long that some white men find their presence to be masculinity-affirming (as long as there aren’t too many of them); and because there is still no “right” way to be a woman in public power without being considered a you-know-what.

I’m not advocating a competition for who has it toughest. The caste systems of sex and race are interdependent and can only be uprooted together. That’s why Senators Clinton and Obama have to be careful not to let a healthy debate turn into the kind of hostility that the news media love. Both will need a coalition of outsiders to win a general election. The abolition and suffrage movements progressed when united and were damaged by division; we should remember that.

I’m supporting Senator Clinton because like Senator Obama she has community organizing experience, but she also has more years in the Senate, an unprecedented eight years of on-the-job training in the White House, no masculinity to prove, the potential to tap a huge reservoir of this country’s talent by her example, and now even the courage to break the no-tears rule. I’m not opposing Mr. Obama; if he’s the nominee, I’ll volunteer. Indeed, if you look at votes during their two-year overlap in the Senate, they were the same more than 90 percent of the time. Besides, to clean up the mess left by President Bush, we may need two terms of President Clinton and two of President Obama.

But what worries me is that he is seen as unifying by his race while she is seen as divisive by her sex.

What worries me is that she is accused of “playing the gender card” when citing the old boys’ club, while he is seen as unifying by citing civil rights confrontations.

What worries me is that male Iowa voters were seen as gender-free when supporting their own, while female voters were seen as biased if they did and disloyal if they didn’t.

What worries me is that reporters ignore Mr. Obama’s dependence on the old — for instance, the frequent campaign comparisons to John F. Kennedy — while not challenging the slander that her progressive policies are part of the Washington status quo.

What worries me is that some women, perhaps especially younger ones, hope to deny or escape the sexual caste system; thus Iowa women over 50 and 60, who disproportionately supported Senator Clinton, proved once again that women are the one group that grows more radical with age.

This country can no longer afford to choose our leaders from a talent pool limited by sex, race, money, powerful fathers and paper degrees. It’s time to take equal pride in breaking all the barriers. We have to be able to say: “I’m supporting her because she’ll be a great president and because she’s a woman.”