26 February, 2008

someday we may see a woman king

I want so badly to write about the little brown birds. I keep trying and I can never get it right.

I recently had a conversation with Emily about our academic ambivalence: our excitement over fall 2008 classes (I’ve already picked out what I want to take) and yet our horror to realize that we are going to be juniors next year. Juniors! That sounds so frighteningly old to me. Old and responsible. I always imagined I’d have my life figured out and my career lined up by the time junior year rolled around. Now I’m recognizing that will probably be just another one of my lavender-colored dreams.

But the classes are so deliciously promising! Japanese 305, Renaissance poets with Armitage, ethics for journalists, twentieth-century poets, and some other journalism class. Classes that I love and classes that I want to take: just English, journalism, and Japanese for me. I have, pleasantly and perhaps a little blindly, confined my personality and my potential success to these three areas.

As I ran my beloved loop around Gimghoul and Raleigh Street yesterday, insufferable questions beat in time with my feet: Where is my life going? Where is all of this headed? What am I doing? I knew where my feet were going at that moment but that was all I knew about my projected movement. I could not — and cannot — foresee my life even three years in the future. Somehow I always imagined that it would never come; that I would never have to grow up, graduate, provide for myself. I was terrified as I thought, breathing in rhythm, trying to outrun the low sun that danced between the trees. Where does God want me? And what does He want from me? All I have are questions and echoes where answers should be.

I am proud of and surprised with myself for keeping up with the photo project; I didn’t think I would last even this long. 57 days today; 309 to go.

We read Paul de Man’s essay “The Return to Philology” in my literary theory class today. I liked it much more than the previous essay of his, “Semiology and Rhetoric,” mainly because I actually understood this one. In “The Return to Philology,” de Man talks about the need to revolutionize the way we teach literature — to instruct students to quit paraphrasing and dipping into psychology and history whenever they write about literature; to quash the indulgence of any thought that may enter their minds and to instead write only on the text itself; consider only the words four inches from one’s face.

De Man praises one professor at Harvard for teaching his students to write about literature in this way. And yet he lauded the students, who had finally mastered this mode of discourse, for not spitting out dozens of books. He wrote, “Good writers are often spare writers and in the present state of literary studies, that is all to the good.” My professor, Dr. Curtain, had the perfect explanation of this. Curtain said, “They did not write many books because they knew how very, very difficult it is to write a good book.”

I think this is perhaps why I am afraid I will never write a book. I am afraid of being a hack, a narcissistic poser who presumes to believe she has anything worthwhile to contribute to this conversation that has been going on for thousands of years. And so I will continue to spew nonsense on the Internets instead.

Irony! It always comes back to irony.

Reading: The English Patient still; The Mercy, poems by Philip Levine
Hearing: “Woman King,” Iron and Wine; “I Will Never See the Sun,” Great Lake Swimmers
Thinking: my hands are the dry hands of an old woman and I like the way my wet hair leaves raindrops on the tissue-thin pages

20 February, 2008

tattoo on my soul

I don't have the energy to write a composed entry, so you get snippets and tangents tonight.

Bright spots of a Wednesday:

- Receiving a nice long letter from Grace. She lamented about the leek detoxification fast that my mother imposed and waxed rhapsodic about hearing Edward Albee speak at Davidson and the freedom to drive. I was reminded of that rush of independence that comes when you turn sixteen and I missed it.

- Lunching with J.Hecht and his freshly shaved head and mustard scarf. We talked about discerning meaning in poetry, the conflict between subject-speaker-author, and the redeeming change of heart. And M.I.A., of course.

- Sitting on a bench in the sun in the charming courtyard of the Chapel of the Cross, talking with Carmen.

- Picking up an armful of promising literature tonight after dinner: the latest edition of The Cellar Door (UNC's undergraduate literary magazine), All the Pretty Horses, The English Patient, and this week's New York Times Book Review. I read people's stories and poems in The Cellar Door and then I go look them up on Facebook and make swift and inaccurate judgments about them and wish they would let me be their friend.

- Getting winked at by a random guy sitting in Lenoir. I was feeling especially plain today but the wink made me feel a little less so. (Betsey and Emily are clucking their tongues at me... finding self-validation in all of the wrong places, I know!)

- The weather

- Having this verse ring in my head all day long: "... so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power." I'm still trying to figure out what it means. But it averted me from a crisis of faith that occurred yesterday morning, so I'm clinging to it with great hope.

Reading: The English Patient (Michael Ontaadje), All the Pretty Horses (Cormac McCarthy), Reflections on the Psalms (C.S. Lewis)
Hearing: "Crosses," Jose Gonzalez
Drinking: OJ

14 February, 2008

of leeches and love: for us there is only the trying

I suppose it is appropriate, on this conjured holiday of hearts, to talk of one of my most prominent loves: literature.

I don’t know very much about myself, but I do know this: literature wins me over like nothing else. Nothing can bring me to such states of joy so rapidly, to states of peace so gently. I keep coming back to books because, ever since I started reading at three, they have been a warm and reliable sanctuary. When people disappoint, books do not. (It is a perilous thing to believe.) I am annoyed when other people talk about loving books because I know they can never love them as I do. How hazardous and pretentious, yes! But it feels so true most of the time.

I was thinking today, while sitting in my Literary Theory class, that I would be unshakably happy—almost dangerously so—if the rest of my life was spent only taking English classes. Sitting at the feet of intriguing, self-important scholars and lapping up the timeless language of great authors—nothing on earth sounds more appealing to me.

And yet there is a meek shade of sadness, for I feel convinced—deep down—that I shall never be either of them. I will never be an intriguing scholar and I will certainly never be a great author (my life is too happy and I’m not bisexual or schizophrenic. At least as far as I can tell). I say these things not to elicit protestations from people—Of course you can write! Surely you could be a scholar if you wanted!—but merely because I feel them strongly and am quite persuaded of their validity.

What it comes down to is that I’m just a poser. Or, even worse and even more accurately, a leech. Feeding off the genius of others to satisfy my hunger for good, true and enduring literature. It’s an icky characterization, but it’s an even ickier discovery of self. No one wants to be a bloodsucker. But maybe it is ameliorating to at least know and acknowledge that you are one. I freely admit that I live off of the beauty of literature. Yet it will never be symbiotic relationship, for I do not have anything to contribute.

So while it may fracture my heart that I can never be like Woolf or Armitage, I at least understand myself. I understand where my path ends. Here: You shall not pass beyond this line, for leeches can not enter the sacred of the Scholar and Author. You can keep bloodsucking on the perimeters, though. Not exactly cheering, but it is good to find one’s boundaries.

That does not mean I resign myself to only reading and reading and never writing. I write too much; I have four ongoing diaries and several unfinished short stories scattered around me. But it just means I know my limits finally. I know that I will not invent a new genre or write the next great American novel. My job is only to fill in the gaps, according to Eliot. Listen to what he says (so perfectly! So clearly):

Trying to learn to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate—but there is no competition—
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.

-- T.S. Eliot, from “East Coker” in Four Quartets

So Happy Valentine’s from a self-professed and contented parasite.

Reading: The Diary of Virginia Woolf (1915-1919) and Reflections on the Psalms, C.S. Lewis
Hearing: “Jezebel” by Iron & Wine and “In California” by Neko Case
Eating: chocolate, of course

07 February, 2008

something like the sublime

During halftime last night I took a break from watching our boys get pummeled by Dook and went for a brisk run around the loop with CatKlaw. We had to stop soon because K sprained her ankle. The two of them went in while I stayed outside and lay on the grass.

It was a dark and quiet night (everyone on campus was inside yelling and moaning and tearing their hair) and I was overwhelmed by peace. I lay there, listening to the black sky, watching the white clouds skim quickly across its surface like an army advancing westward. I sighed and pressed my spine into the ground, laced my fingers in the grass. Peace. The wind gently shakes the thin branches above. I counted six stars. God seemed astonishingly close. My mind struggled to find the right things to say to Him; His nearness extinguished thought, erased a clear pattern of articulation. I felt a little like those Romantic poets who were always gushing about approaching the sublime; when faced with natural beauty, the soul trembles and grasps for words but can find none. Expression is suspended and replaced by drowning, consuming emotion.

I can’t even describe how good it felt to talk to God—even more so to hear Him talk back. I cried for my unfaithfulness to Him, marveled that He would be willing—and even eager—to take me back. I lay there and just breathed. Now I remember why I pray, I thought. It is for this; this proximity to the divine, this weak and often shy ascension to a living God.

(And so I crawl back.)

Today my beautiful sister Grace turned sixteen and is now licensed to wreak havoc on the roads and travel the globe. She is lovely and I am forever impressed by her. So, cheers, Gracie. Wish I could be there with you today.

And did you know desire’s a terrible thing
The worst that I can find
And did you know desire’s a terrible thing
But I rely on mine…
“Can’t Be Sure,” The Sundays