From Jean Rhys, The Collected Short Stories:
From "A Solid House":

But are you telling me the real secret, how to be exactly like everybody else? Tell me, for I am sure you know. If it means being deaf, then I'll be deaf. And if it means being blind, then I'll be blind. I'm afraid of that road, Miss Spearman--the one that leads to madness and to death, they say. That's not true. It's longer than that. But it's a terrible road to put your feet on, and I'm not strong enough; let somebody else try it. I want to go back. Tell me how to get back; tell me what to do and I'll do it.

From "Temps Perdi":

Now I am almost as wary of books as I am of people. They also are capable of hurting you, pushing you into the limbo of the forgotten. They tell lies-- and vulgar, trivial lies--and when there are so many all saying the same thing they can shout you down and make you doubt, not only your memory, but your senses. However, I have discovered one or two of the opposition. Listen: ...

It had a sweet sound sometimes, patois. And I can't get the words out of my mind, Temps Perdi. Before I leave 'Rolvenden' I'll write them up--on a looking glass, perhaps. Somebody might see them who knows about the days that wait round the corner to be lived again and knows that you don't choose them, either. They choose themselves.
(What is dogeared?)


volumes that I prize

Trent just wrote a post on books that have influenced him and I've decided to do the same. When he told me he was writing it I thought, I can't do that, it would be too hard to choose. But I decided after reading his that I wanted to try. I think my initial reluctance stemmed at least in part from my sadness that I've read so much less than I would like in recent years, which I prefer not to have to think about. But reading his made me think of several books I'd include in such a list.

1. Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex. To be honest I don't recall exactly what it was that affected me so profoundly when I read this in college. But I do recall being shattered by it, and thinking that it should be required reading for every woman. I think--reverse engineering my impressions--it opened my eyes to how deeply my concept of self was affected by my sex and gender, and therefore how much it was derived from the male perspective, which necessarily defines me in relation to men.

2. William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch. This book has so much power and rawness. I think I measured every book I read against it for years afterward. It is hard to believe that words on a page can jump up and shake you by the throat the way this book does.

3. Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. I think what affected me most about this book was how surprisingly plausible it seemed. Unfortunately. Her description of how it happened that slowly women became entirely subjugated--again--was frighteningly real.

4. Anne McCaffrey's Pern series. Dragons! Taking a break from capital-L literature, these books are pure escapist fantasy. And that's exactly why I include them here. I read this series during an extremely difficult period of my life, and I'm not sure I would have survived it without them.

5. Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Back to highbrow. Except not really--Chaucer was a sort of lowbrow pioneer because he wrote in English at a time when English was considered the language of the peasants, and serious poetry and prose was written only in French. Plus he wrote about common people, and his humor could be very coarse. In The Miller's Tale, a woman's lover tricks his rival into kissing his naked behind, and then farts in his face. But I include the Tales here because when I read them (after I got used to the archaic language -- it doesn't take that long to get over that hump and start enjoying them, so please don't read a "translation," you will seriously miss out) I was blown away by how alive his characters were. All these years after he wrote them, the voluble color with which they speak from the page is truly inspiring.

6. Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations. This book made me understand why capitalism by its very nature has to take over the world and push everyone and everything to do more, make more, consume more.

7. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels' The Communist Manifesto. I read this right after Smith, as part of the Great Books curriculum at the University of Chicago. (All colleges should follow this model. This is the third book on my list that I read as past of that curriculum, and there are at least a dozen more I could include. Can you even remember the titles of that many books you read in college?) I was reeling from the capitalism=cancer vision I got from Smith, and looking for an alternative. And unfortunately, this book didn't offer me one. What I learned from it is that the most popular alternative to capitalism anyone's come up with doesn't have a chance of ever being put into practice on a large scale because it would require that a small group of people seize power and then, after holding it for a while through a transition period, voluntarily give it up. Marx and Engels didn't explain how that was going to work, and history (and human nature) tells us that it doesn't.

8. Graham Greene's The Heart of the Matter. This book made me understand Catholicism. One scene in particular crystallized it for me: the main character is about to do something that is a sin for reasons that I would call a technicality, and the image in his mind is that he is stomping on the face of baby Jesus. Amazing.

9. Jane Austen's Complete Works. Cheating, I know. But I don't want to single out one of her plots because that would miss the point. It's the way dear Jane writes about people that constitutes her influence on me. A few deft strokes of keenly observed mockery, and voila -- a fully-formed character. Gorgeous.

10. Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little Town on the Prairie. I could put the whole series here, because I reread them all repeatedly and generally obsessed upon and worshipped Laura throughout my formative years. But Little Town was my favorite, probably because it was the one in which Laura's future husband courted her. I'm sure it had a significant impact on my ideas about love and romance, for better or worse.


O Caesar! These things are beyond all use, and I do fear them

I haven't spent a lot of time on Youtube. Usually I watch videos people send me but I don't go there looking for videos. And actually I don't even watch the videos people send me half the time because I'm at work.

But for some reason tonight I went to YouTube and searched for boxer. One of the first videos I found made me laugh out loud repeatedly (boxers. f---ng awesome.), so I kept going. Boxer videos led me to baby videos which led me to ... vaguely horrified. Not flat-out horrified, just vaguely. Like this. So, it's not abuse to videotape (what is the verb when it's digital video?) your baby nodding like that instead of laying him down so he can get the sleep he clearly wants. But it's still pretty disturbing. It's a baby, for crissake. A kid, maybe it would be funny. Not a baby. You don't f--k with babies.

I guess if I spent more time on YouTube (blogger's spellcheck recognizes that the "T" in "YouTube" must be capitalized. Creepy.) I might already know that it is a window on humanity and all it's inevitable horrors. But I don't, so I didn't, and, ... shudder. And all I found was people letting their babies nod! No beating up on homeless people or ... well, I don't know what else these kids get up to on YouTube. I only know about the beating up on homeless people from Law & Order. (F**k I'm old. And naive, I suspect.) (Ok, definitely naive.)

I'm sort of hazy on this, but I think there is some critical/scholarly recognition that the dominance of "high-brow" culture in days gone by resulted from the limited control and consumption of culture by small--wealthy, white, male, etc.--segments of the population. So the rise of "low-brow" culture is a result of democratization. Which is a good thing. Right? Right?!!

Is there a counterargument? Because I don't really like much reality TV, and I would really like to know what the counterargument is.

p.s. Is it elitist to be smart and desire smart culture?

p.p.s. This is my 100th post!


the food of love

We saw the Magnetic Fields Monday night and it was one of the best concert experiences I've ever had. I wish I had written about it when I was still in the warm glow because I can't remember now all the things I had to say. Every song was like a perfect gem. How is that even possible? And I fell in love with every member of the band, from Stephin Merritt to Shirley Simms. Is it just me or is the chemistry of love very similar if not identical to what good music does to you? I was just a couple beers short of telling them at the top of my voice how f---ing awesome they were in the middle of the set, I was that carried away. It's funny because I've never been that blown away by them recorded. I've listened to 69 Love Songs over and over courtesy of my husband and liked it well enough but that's about it. Once I even made him turn it off because I was in a blue mood and it was plunging me deeper. But I didn't find them depressing at all live. I felt thrillingly good from first to last. Bravo!!!


leaves look pale

Nugget's bedtime is a bloody battle of epic proportions these days. I have to acknowledge that we've never been good about the consistent bedtime routine that all the books say is the way to avoid this. But I also think it has mostly to do with how much I've been working. Why would he willingly go to bed when this is the only time he gets to see me? And I don't know what the answer to that is, other than quitting my job, which obviously is not an option.

On the other hand, it's Daddy he wants when he gets really upset that I'm trying to put him to bed, and it's Daddy who can calm him down and get him to go to sleep. It's Daddy he cries for when he doesn't want his diaper changed, and on an on, always Daddy! He doesn'treally ever say Mommy. As my husband will point out, he is clearly a mama's boy most of the time: insisting that Mommy hold him or read him his book or feed him his dinner. Which is why I haven't really minded up til now that he doesn't say my name. But lately it's been grating on me, this calling for Daddy when he's mad that he's not getting his way.

I don't really mind that I know I am going to be the disciplinarian of the house. He can call for Daddy all he wants when I know I'm setting the boundaries he needs. I suppose what gets me is that I know I'm not able to give him the time and attention that he needs just as much right now. I don't think it's going to hurt him in the long run. I don't think he's going to hold it against me someday. I don't even think it's hurting his current development, whatever certain overly opinionated people might think. But it still bothers me, because it's what he and I both want right now: more quality time.

Spring has arrived in Chicago this week (although I fully expect that winter will be back at some point before we're through) and I have never been so unhappy to see it. Who wants warm sunny days when they just reinforce the feeling that I should be at the zoo with Nugget and I can't? And it sees like this winter was just a blink and a nod--where did it go? Why is time moving so fast? Is this the way it's supposed to be? I don't think so. I need to slow down. I need everything to just chill.

But like Nugget, I don't always get what I want. Daddy!


How far a modern quill doth come too short

Today we went to the Opera with a capital "O" with some tix my moms couldn't use, and I have a few suggestions for the Opera producers of the world:

1. Mic the singers. Make it freakin' LOUD. I know it's supposed to carry me away on an emotional swell, and it does when Andrea Bocelli is blasting out my husband's TEAC speakers, but at the Opera it's just so ... far away. I can't get carried away when it's not LOUD. Yes, you will lose some of your current patrons when you drop the devotion to as-it-was, but they will be dead soon anyway. Think of your future!

2. Loosen up with the translation. The Opera we saw tonight had modrnized sets with lots of neon, but the translation could have used some jive to make it feel more relevant. If you can modernize the sets, why not modernize the libretto? The music is the purist part, right? I just can't get down with Faust when he's talking about peasants and mountains.

After my husband and I ducked out at intermission, it occurred to me that it is not at all implausible that I might have married some tool who would insist on taking the Opera seriously and would not have left with me to go to Monk's Bar and eat peanuts (the shells of which we could have thrown on the floor, which is part of the charm of Monk's, and we were charmed but just couldn't do it because we are neat people, despite all appearances to the contrary, such as our tornado-strewn condo) and enjoy looking at the shelves of books (until we pulled some down and discovered that the shelves were too short and the books had been amputated -- AMPUTATED! like some sort of horror show, I mean really, the books were cut in half! -- but we were nonetheless able to read from the book of dirty limericks, which made things a little better) and drinking beer and commiserating about how we really should like Opera but we'd much rather drink beer and read dirty limericks ... and oh! What a travesty it would have been if I had married anyone but my husband!