Monday, March 30, 2009

I do perceive here a divided duty (1.3)

[6-2-09 - Addedum for all you students who stumbled upon this post by typing the title quote in a search engine: Desdemona says this in Act one, Scene III, to her father. She's talking about her duties to her father versus her duties to her new husband, Othello. I don't think her character is given the credit it deserves - given the time and the prejudice, she shows remarkable loyalty to Othello. Check out this link for Sparknote's analysis of her character.]

We're discussing "Othello" tomorrow. This is actually the first time I've read the play although I had been familiar with the general themes (having seen 2001's classic, O, staring Mekhi Pfeiffer and Julia Stiles). I'm having fun gathering images of various Othellos, from Paul Robeson to Lawrence Olivier to Laurence Fishburne. Shakespeare has such universal themes that it can be reinterpreted again and again through the years, and each time the audience views it through its own lens.

I found a version of Othello at the library that came with an audio cd with snippets of various productions. Track two is a side-by-side reading of Othello's first long speech in act one, first by Paul Robeson (he first played Othello in England, 1930, and played him in the U.S. only after World War II), and the second by an actor from a 1987 production in South Africa. That production was considered a "protest play" - apartheid was still the law, and the arts community was boycotting until the racist policy was lifted. 

Here's one of the few moments that appear to give real clue to Iago's behavior. He says:

But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve
For daws to peck at: I am not what I am.
Othello, 1. 1

Shakespeare's Othello was an outsider. He was a Moor, leading a Venetian army but still not seen as fit to marry one of its own.  In the twentieth century, it was enough to have his skin color be different to show that outsider status. But in the twenty-first century, I can only imagine that directors are dreaming up new way that will continue to shock audiences. Instead of racial differences, maybe highlight Othello's Arab background. Or maybe they'll make Othello a woman or transgender (I haven't looked around too much - maybe someone's already done this!)

Although this recent New York production of Othello looks exquisite:
[Director Arin Arbus] gets out of Shakespeare’s way, in other words, but this is only the reward of much intelligent care and hard work. You get the sense that each moment in the play has been thought through, line by line and even step by step, with the result that every scene achieves its purpose with a trenchant simplicity.

I'm trying to write and post each day. Eventually something good will come to me, and I just want to make sure my fingers are ready for it.

Making your own fun

As my grandmother would say, "Suck it up." Nothing's perfect or the exact way we want it to be. After all, what would be the point?  The moment things settle down for me is (from money and jobs to friendships and family) is the moment I somewhat actively try to mess things up again (internally or externally). So... that's what I'll do: I'll suck it up.

Here's a short story by Annie Proulx from her collection Close Range, posted in its entirety:

55 Miles to the Gas Pump

Rancher Croom in handmade boots and filthy hat, that walleyed cattleman, stray hairs like curling fiddle string ends, that warm-handed, quick-foot dancer on splintery boards or down the cellar stairs to a rack of bottles of his own strange beer, yeasty, cloudy, bursting out in garlands of foam, Rancher Croom at night galloping drunk over the dark plain, turning off at a place he knows to arrive at a canyon brink where he dismounts and looks down on tumbled rock, waits, then steps out, parting the air with his last roar, sleeves surging up windmill arms, jeans riding over boot tops, but before he hits he rises again to the top of the cliff like a cork in a bucket of milk.

Mrs. Croom on the roof with a saw cutting a hole into the attic where she has not been for twelve years thanks to old Croom's padlocks and warnings, whets to her desire, and the sweat flies as she exchanges the saw for a chisel and hammer until a ragged slab of peak is free and she can see inside: just as she thought: the corpses of Mr. Croom's paramours - she recognizes them from their photographs in the paper: MISSING WOMAN - some desiccated as jerky and much the same color, some moldy from lying beneath roof leaks, and all of them used hard, covered with tarry handprints, the marks of boot heels, some bright blue with the remnants of paint used on the shutters years ago, one wrapped in newspaper nipple to knee.

When you live a long way out you make your own fun.

Read it a couple of times, out loud if possible.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Site feed weirdness

I spent a couple hours yesterday going through my posts and adding Labels ("e.g. scooters, vacation, fall"). This caused me to edit each post, adding my "nana" and "vent" tags, and then hitting "Publish Post." I was experimenting with site feeds, maybe adding it to twitter (more accountability for me=less silliness, in theory) but since I did those edits, the site feed is not in chronological order. For everything, it's "March 28." Hmm.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Most of the time

I love living alone. I love leaving dirty dishes in the sink and waiting until the next morning, while coffee is brewing, to finally wash them. I love hogging the computer or the television remote and going to bed at 10:30 or 12:30. I love sitting in the middle of the floor with a gigantic stack of papers, "sorting" them by creating more stacks of papers around me so that, when I stand, the room looks like a total disaster, even though, of course, it's totally organized in my mind. I love a great many things about living alone.

It's just sometimes, coming home after a really crappy day, feeling like I'm two inches tall and once again questioning all choices, it would be really nice to have someone there.

Ugh, ugh, ugh.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Out and about

My grandma asks, somewhat unrhetorically, how people know how to behave, how to make choices, how to distinguish between right or wrong, without some belief system that involves a higher power. "What's the point," she asks, "if you're not living your life for the Lord?"

I certainly don't claim to know the answer to that question. But there is a point... there has to be. Non-belief takes as much a leap of faith as belief does, and I'm not arrogant (or brave?) enough to make either claim. But I know, regardless of the answer, each of us has a responsibility to ourselves and to the society in which we live to behave a certain way. To make certain choices. To distinguish between right and wrong.

I think it's a little harder, though, to figure things out.

Not much to see here...

I'm not a nap person. I don't sleep during the middle of the day. No matter how tired or how little sleep I got the previous night, I hang on until it's decidely dark outside. Until recently, that is. 

Friday mornings I teach. It's become a ritual these past few weeks to finish at school, have lunch, check email, news, etc, read, and then take a nap. By the time I wake back up, one or two hours later, it's late afternoon and (after putting on a pot of coffee) I'm refreshed and ready to go out (or, not go out, whatever the case may be).  

Today I finished Coetzee's "Disgrace." It's an author I only recently discovered and look forward to reading more of his works. Next is "Elizabeth Costello."

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

"So there's this old lady..."

This phrase used to signal a brainstorming session. Throw out character ideas, plots, crazy scenarios. The old lady turned into Theresa Merchant - she was widowed and lived in Cincinnati and played bridge. She was tricked into letting her pal "Henry" stay with her. He reminded her of her late husband and, supposedly, shared the same name. Eventually Theresa figured out the truth but instead of kicking him out or calling him on it, she just took the upper hand.

Today I discussed Ibsen's "A Doll House"; last week was "The Glass Menagerie." Just when I'm thinking that women have come a long way since 1879 and 1946, I come across something like this report in the NYtimes about an NGO in South Africa's reports on the rise of "corrective rape" to "cure" lesbians. I'm midway through Coetzee's "Disgrace," and I think something like this has happened in the plot.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Ma Vie en Rose

Restlessness manifests itself in different ways, some more constructive than others. This time, it was an impulsive purchase of round-trip tickets to Australia. I won't go until October, but I'm psyched. And knowing that I have this huge expense looming on my credit card will force me to be more sober and practical these next few months (i.e. fewer self-indulgent complaints).

Next month, Paris! I have my travel books, and I'm going to watch "La Vie en Rose" in preparation.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Good, good day

Today's St. Patrick's Day, and my freckles and pale skin tell me I must have some Irish in me.  

Slowly but surely, I'm getting back to running. Unfortunately my shoes seem to be 1/2 size too small, as judged by the smattering of blood inside the right heel. Ew.  

Anyway, I'm procrastinating. Again. We're discussing the play "Fences" tomorrow as well as the first few scenes from "The Glass Menagerie." I'm trying to come up with some provocative questions regarding both works.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Laundry day

When my grandmother's stressed, she dreams of the lab. My grandmother worked at a male-dominated lab for years. While her coworkers had more degrees and thus higher salaries, my grandmother worked hard and did well. She was treated very badly and given little respect. It wasn't until she retired that they told her how valuable she was to them and the lab. She told me later how much it would have meant to her if they'd said that to her while she worked there. 

In her dreams, she returns to that environment, working hard, not being appreciated. 

My grandmother tells me her stories when I visit each week, and I'm grateful for them. Her dignity, strength, and resilience inspire me. 

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Annoyingly Vague Restlessness:

It's what shows up before I hole up in a room, or change majors, or quit jobs, or break up with boyfriends (hey b!), or write self-involved blog entries.

(you know, as opposed to all those other non self-involved entries).   

I love Paris in the Springtime

In class I talk about "strong" sentences and words vs. "weak" sentences and words. Always opt for the stronger choice when there is one, and use active voice instead of passive voice. Saunter instead of walk. Be jovial instead of happy unless, of course, you are merely content and not, in fact, jovial. Use strong, specific words that are closer to the meaning you wish to express. Carry instead of being carried. Drive instead of being driven. Control your words and thoughts, instead of letting them control you. (It's easier said than done).

My senior year of high school, my French class took a trip to Quebec. We spent a couple days in Montreal and a couple days in Quebec City. Both were lovely cities, but I especially liked Quebec City. It felt so old and European with its narrow streets and overwhelmingly French language. I'm going back to Paris next month. It's going to be a really short trip, but I'll definitely reserve quite a few hours to sit with a journal and cafe au lait.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sleepy sketches

Certain traits, certain qualities, follow us. Life changes, circumstances change, we change, but many (most?) things stay stable. It's annoying: feeling like we actually have a choice but then following that same old path makes us blame ourselves. But maybe we're not meant to stray because we are who we are, and we're all different, and blah blah blah. You know???

Anyway.  I was going to try to stay up for SNL, but I'm more looking forward to finishing one of my books. Open next to my bedside are "Disgrace," by J.M. Coetzee, "The Reader," by Bernard Schlink, "A Brief History of the Dead," by Kevin Brockmeier," "50 things that Could Change America," and a journal that's getting used less frequently with all these various venues for oversharing - though it remains a good place for tinkering with ideas and for drawing bad, sleepy sketches.

Coetzee's protagonist in "Diary of a Bad Year" writes in one of his "strong opinions" that 
"Dishonour is no respecter of fine distinctions. Dishonour descends upon one's shoulders, and once it has descended no amount of clever pleading will dispel it" (p. 40).

Heavy statement, right? We are all shameful, he says, because we live in a shameful age (i.e., one of torture, unjust wars, etc.) But Anya, his typist, turns his bold proclamations on their head - victims need feel no shame.  It's just this sentence -- "Dishonour descends upon one's shoulders" -- is poetry. Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote that prose is the "best words," but poetry is the best words in their best order.  Coetzee's sentence chews me up.  Maybe I should draw a picture of that.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Stumbling, bumbling, fumbling...

During one of my many detours, I learned about Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Before one can worry about "self-actualization" - morality, creativity, spontaneity, etc. - one must have physiological needs met: food, breathing, water, sex, and air. And once those needs are met, then one can worry about safety, belonging, etc. And then belonging. And then self-esteem. And finally self-actualization. 

There are a lot of good and important things to take out of Maslow's hierarchy, especially when it comes to school - how can children who aren't having their physiological needs met, who don't feel safe, be motivated in the classroom?  It's just a little more challenging.  

This New York Time piece, "Generation OMG", the effects of this recession are considered. According to the article, the children born in the 30s and just before turned into the silent generation, sober, practical, eager for a safe, secure job.  Their children, the boomers, were protected, indulged, and able to explore. The article draws some parallels between the excesses of the twenties and the bubbles of the nineties (artificially inflated, also, during the last administration), and it suggests that children today will grow up to be silent - sober, practical, less likely to indulge in excess.  

The article is more nuanced than my little description, acknowledging other similarities as well as diffences. But it made me think of how lucky I am to have the luxury of worrying about creativity, problems of morality, expression. These are good problems to have. 

Thursday, March 5, 2009

College vs Real Life

Truth in writing, writing as a contruct, construct as the truth.

I'm reading a lot lately. Actual books, even!  Of course there are the readings for class, the ones I have to really read (as opposed to that "fake" reading I did in college, skimming the surface, getting the main idea, avoiding eye contact with the professors...). It turns out that by really reading them, I get more out of them. Who knew?

Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" is brilliant.  Hemingway's "A Soldier's Home," brilliant. Godwin's "A Sorrowful Woman" and Chopin's "Story of an Hour," shocking. And once I got in the habit of really reading, I actually want to find more brilliance: J.M. Coetzee, brilliant; Kevin Brockmeier, so far, brilliant.

Reading books, writing anything, these are all activities that bring us closer to the truth. Postmodernism succeeded by forcing us to exam grand metanarratives and, if necessary, tear them apart, exposing false "truths." But it also failed by distracting us from that search for truth. I don't believe there are millions of little truths, one for each individual; rather, there is a truth out there (cue the X-Files theme) that is elusive but that we should also try to get closer to. Reading great books does that, as it allows us to see things through others' eyes. Writing does that, as we seek the best words to accurately describe or represent reality.

And that's why plagiarism is such a heinous act. The act of writing it, obviously, is false; worse, the act of reading it is also rendered false, and it taints everything that comes after. I describe it as a punch to the stomach, but more accurately it's a squishing of the heart.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

In this Arranged Marriage, Love Came Second

In many countries, such as India and Iran, arranged marriage – a marriage in which parents have chosen their son or daughter’s spouse – is still common practice. The divorce rate in these places is under 10%, a tiny fraction of the divorce rate in the United States, and I wonder why. Is it that Indian parents are so much better at choosing a husband for their daughter than an American woman is able to do for herself? I find that hard to believe; however, I have been a bride’s maid at three weddings, and two of the three couples are now divorced. 

Even though my sample of marriages is too small to be statistically meaningful, it’s nonetheless a startling snapshot of where our society is – a place where people seem to fall in and out of marriage as quickly as they fall in and out of love.  I don’t doubt that most individuals go into a marriage believing that it’s for life; nor do I doubt that the break up is devastating for everyone involved.  But then I think of the wedding shows (“Bridezilla” and “Whose Wedding is it Anyway?”) that populate cable television, making a spectacle of the wedding process and trivializing what comes after the honeymoon; I think of my own parents, divorced before I reached junior high; and I think about my friends, divorcées before their twenty-eighth birthdays. 

Something in our society is amiss, and while arranged marriage isn’t the answer – Americans want their freedom to marry and divorce whomever they choose – maybe we should consider some of the conditions that allow arranged marriages to succeed and even thrive. Trust, commitment, and familial support would be a good starting point.

(a little essay-ish, but it was crafted as an example for class... I really aimed to keep it under 10 sentences, hence the semicolons... although who doesn't love a good, well-placed semicolon? Not to mention the em-dash...)