there and back again

The things you learn and can’t forget.
July 30, 2008, 7:20 pm
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From Wikipedia:

Numbers stations are shortwave radio stations of uncertain origin. They generally broadcast mechanically generated voices reading streams of numbers, words, letters (sometimes using a spelling alphabet), tunes or Morse code. They are in a wide variety of languages and the voices are usually women’s, though sometimes men’s or children’s voices are used.

Evidence supports popular assumptions that the broadcasts are channels of communication used to send messages to spies.  Numbers stations appear and disappear over time (although some follow regular schedules), and their overall activity has increased slightly since the early 1990s. This increase suggests that, as spy-related phenomena, they were not unique to the Cold War.

So yeah, numbers stations were explained to me as I walked back from a football match this evening.  Something things are too fantastic to be anything but true.  Wilco used clips from numbers stations on the album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (That title makes a bit more sense now too, doesn’t it?).  With a particular kind of shortwave radio, you could tune into these broadcasts right now.


“Got my mind made up/got my mind made up”
July 29, 2008, 8:11 pm
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If I were forced to sit down and think about what truly scared me, I think I would probably come up with something besides sharks.  Sharks are scary but there are worse things in the world.  I think the thing I dread more than anything else in the world, is the possibility that I might wake up one day and have found that the people I loved didn’t really feel much about me one way or the other.  I have a deathly fear of loving people more than they love me.  And I do tend to love people more than they love me. 

E.M. Forster once said, “If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.”  I don’t think I would have to hope for such guts.  I cannot contemplate living a happy life without my friends.  (What would life be like without America?  I guess I’d just stay here in Cambridge.)  Being away this summer has actually been lots of fun, and yet when I stop and allow myself, I get this horrible ache.  

I wonder if people at home miss me as much as I miss them.  I know they don’t and yet I still spend these moments feeling a physical longing to be back with them.  I wonder if someday I should make an attempt to moderate this tendency.  To have friendships where I don’t give everything I have and then have to deal with the sucker punch in the stomach when I realize that there’s no way anyone could return that depth of feeling.  I don’t know what the answer to this one is.  I wish I had it.  I wish that I could find someone who could reciprocate.  I wish that I could stop hoping for this and simply be content.

Midterms are over! I have a blog again!
July 25, 2008, 4:04 am
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To me, Judith Warner’s op-ed column for The New York Times has always come up just a bit short.  She’s a good writer who can get way too verbose but I think she’s writing for a very limited group of readers—feminists yes, but also overwhelming white and belonging to the upper middle class.  Just like the readership of The New York Times, I can hear people say, and yet I think there’s something pretty weak about constantly preaching to the choir.

But she’s on point in her latest column where she very skillfully breaks down the myth of the so-called “opt-out revolution”.  Aside from upper middle class women in their 30s, women really aren’t opting out of the workforce.  They’re being forced out.  Warner notes that the employment rates of non-mothers and mothers are very close.  And moreover, up until 2004, the likelihood that a woman with children would leave the workforce had been dropping dramatically and steadily since 1984.

…[W]hen men in their prime working years drop out of the workforce we don’t say they’ve gone home to be with their kids.

We say they’re unemployed.

The distinction is truly meaningful beyond the neat way it encapsulates our inability to separate ideology from fact when it comes to thinking about mothers and their much-vaunted “choices.” Unemployed people, after all, are entitled to benefits. As a society, we tend to think it’s incumbent upon us to get them working again — for their own good, individually, for the good of their families, and for our collective welfare. Politicians promise to retrain them. Devise policies to retain them. The unemployed still fall under the ever-retracting umbrella of people we consider, to some extent, to be worthy of our care.

Mothers, with their glorious array of post-feminist lifestyle options, have long been seen as something else. They’re individuals, making choices, responsible for the fallout of those choices even if, in point of fact, those choices were made for them by a weak economy, the unaffordability of child care or an inflexible workplace. They don’t need “government handouts” like quality child care, flextime, sick days, family leave and top-notch afterschool programs, because they’ve made their proud choices and, by golly (unless they’re whiners), they’re going to go it alone.

Now I just wish that The New York Times editorial page would own up to the fact that it’s been the most prominent publication pushing for the recognition of the fictional “opt-out revolution” from the very beginning.

P.S. For a laugh, hop over here and read about this poor guy who’s been possessed by Judith Warner.  Heh.

How do people live in Cambridge?!
July 19, 2008, 1:29 pm
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The one terrible thing I’ve done while I’ve been here is acquire a coffee addiction.  I can’t help it, the jet lag fucked with me so bad that the only thing that rescued me was cappuccino, okay?  And having coffee after dinner makes me feel like a civilized scholar instead of a crazed student.  But there’s nowhere to get coffee here after seven!  I think I know one place that stays open until seven thirty but its seven twenty-seven right now and I’ll never make it!  Ugh. 

The bar at King’s (and for real, British students have bars outside of their cafeteria, it’s ridiculous) does serve coffee.  However, they charge the earth for it and they don’t even totally fill the tiny little cup they give you.  They push a three-quarters full cup of coffee at you and then ask for three dollars.  It’s shameless!

Please note that I understand the correct solution to this problem is to stop buying coffee and just make it like normal people.  I defend myself from this accusation by pointing out that electrical appliances of all kinds are banned in my dorm.  So there. 

Shameless materialism.
July 19, 2008, 11:20 am
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So I’m not doing a whole lot of shopping in Cambridge, for two main reasons.  Reason number one is that the exchange rate is just killing me dead.  Getting a drink out with dinner sets me back six dollars.  I went to H&M a week ago looking for a dress (we have these fancy formal dinners every few weeks and I wanted a new dress) and I couldn’t bring myself to buy anything because all of a sudden that forty dollar dress that I might have bought in New York was actually forty pounds and that’s like eighty dollars and this is H&M were talking about.  Nothing from that store is worth eighty dollars.

Reason number two is that when I sit down and start to analyze my shopping habits I start to get really worried.  I am not one of those super annoying people who goes shopping all the time and always has to have a new outfit.  I’ve been wearing a plaid button down shirt all week that used to belong to my brother!  So I would generally say that I safely avoid being labeled as really materialistic.  But I really like clothes.  I don’t really like trends but I can very easily fall in love with fantastically pretty dresses and winter coats (mmm, winter coats).  So I feel like I constantly have to be restraining myself from indulging my tendency towards materialism.  It’s a battle, really.

But books!  I let myself buy books like television characters buy shoes!  I can never get mad at myself for buying books.  They’re pretty and they expand my mind and decorate my room and I reread books like crazy so I always feel like I’m getting my money’s worth.  I also tend to research the books I buy so very rarely do I ever go out and buy a book that I end up hating.  I love all my books.  I could really be happy if one day I owned a apartment filled with nothing but books, as long as I have a bed and also a super cute winer coat.

But the buying of books presents yet another moral dilemma.  For where should one buy books?  From your local neighborhood independently owed bookstore, right?  You should always support the little guy and also it makes me feel super literary to buy books from a tiny little shop staffed by mean old people and cats.  Buying books from independent books stores gives you serious cachet.  But here’s the problem with independent bookstores.  They’re small.  They are also cute and quirky and smell like books which is a major plus but they lack the overwhelming variety of Barnes & Noble.  
The one thing I gave myself permission to buy in Cambridge was books.  I’m not entirely sure how I’m getting them home right now, but that doesn’t really matter.  I got free rein from the parents to go book-buying crazy and so I did.  But I wanted to buy books from Cambridge bookstores.  There is a Borders here, but buying books from Borders in Cambridge is lame.  I wanted to find the old fashioned bookstores that have been around for a billion years and sold books to Newton and Darwin and people like that.  I also wanted to perhaps spend a little more and buy some older editions of favorite books or perhaps ones with nice illustrations—super pretentious but hey, I’m a snob.  This is surprisingly hard to do.  But I went to Heffer’s, which is one of the old and famous bookstores in Cambridge, and poked around the fiction section, feeling like I was at least making an effort as Heffer’s is a chain but originated in Cambridge and feels very literary.  A little too literary it turns out as Heffer’s had a really great selection of classic British literature (figures) but nothing particularly modern or unusual.  It was bizarre.  They had five different Bukowski novels, but nothing by Salman Rushdie.  So then I had to go to Borders, where the dude at the register noticed my Heffer’s shopping bag and totally made a dick remark.  And then I finally stumbled into this tiny bookstore specializing in illustrated books and children’s books from the 19th and 20th century, The Haunted Bookshop, and it was really cramped and sort of musty and staffed by an old lady.  Wonderful!  Except that I’d spent lots of money on books already and I wasn’t entirely sure what I was looking for and the old lady was totally giving me dirty looks because I had bags from Heffer’s and Borders!  

I haven’t given up; I’m going back to The Haunted Bookshop and I’ve heard that G. David is good, too.  But who knew buying books was going to get so political?

Two poems.
July 17, 2008, 4:28 pm
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I’m putting off writing a short story for class tomorrow; instead I’ll post things I’ve already written and gotten sick of!  An elegy and then a creepy poem which I wrote after reading a bunch of Thomas Gunn poems about the serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.  Go out and read the Gunn poems; they’re a little overwhelming and disturbing but I think quite lovely.  I’m not posting them here in order to give myself a fair shot.

The Coat

The lights go on, stumble to their feet
Too late, it’s already dark and I’m waiting
For you on the stoop of my house
In the January snow.

Or rather, I wait for the heavy smoke
Of your winter coat, the stately swing,
Of your approach.  Only you could dance
A jig in such a coat, shoulders as broad
As I was tall.  I made mountains from its folds
And climbed them to be with you.

On the other side of the park, you step out
Into the street, into the path of your cab
And you’re an old man who pretends too well:
Your torch song of youth is all run down.

What can you see through the heavy air,
Each noise is wrapped in muffling muck,
That particular cushion of salt and trash
And slush, native to city streets in winter?

You lay quiet, your coat gathered a shroud
Of snow, a frosting of ice on windowpane check.
That coat had buttons of tarnished brass,
They had a sheen you had to hunt for,
Like sequins at the bottom of the punch bowl
When the party’s all run down.

I’ve still got your winter coat.  Its ragged cuffs
Keep my fingers safe in winter and it sweeps
The floor for me, too.  And when I need a lift,
It picks me up and carries me down the street.


Distance makes the heart grow weak

The winter wind that cracks trees
And paints the girls, wearing woolen tights,
Adorning my nighttime stoop,
Glittering, seems to originate
Somewhere near my heart.
I’ve has got a longing lately

To press my cheek against           
Bleached bones, ribbed temples.
The pulsing calm of youth
Can move between bodies,
Ice to steam, I embrace
What little they can give.

Those girls, they wobble and shake
They lose their coats, bare their backs.
Their drunken, scraped up knees
Have got an elusive gleam
That can heat up ice on windowpanes
Where some may choose to watch

The way that summer constrains itself,
Drapes itself in the crushed velvet
Folds of party dresses on the bodies
Of young girls on my stoop
Who sweet talk the doorbell
But never come inside.

Fuck up.
July 16, 2008, 4:53 pm
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Indeed.  I missed my evening lecture today because I got sick after dinner and after being violently ill completely forgot about the lecture and immediately fell asleep.  Except, one can’t miss class here without a doctor’s note.  And at seven in the evening there isn’t a nurse on duty.  And now that I’ve missed class, I’ve got to talk my way out of a 3% reduction of my final grade.  Fuck fuck fuck.