there and back again

The truly unpopular opinions.
August 6, 2008, 3:47 pm
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I had two important realizations today.  Firstly.  If I live for another fifteen years without ever seeing another Monet, I would be quite happy.  I am sick to death of Monet.  His paintings don’t have any movement for me, any life—they’re just a pleasing arrangement of colors and shapes.  Earlier in my course here at Cambridge, all of us went to London for the day and many of us ended up at the Tate Modern.  Most people who went to the Tate came back raving about the large Water-Lilies painting that was on display.  I sat in front of this particular painting for about five minutes and almost fell asleep.  I don’t want to see any more art that lulls me into a stupor!  I want art that’s attempting to do something or provoke something.  No more Monet.

Secondly!  I am sick to death of reading about the phenomenon of the muse.  These lovely women (usually women, not always) who exist simply to provoke men to greater artistic, philosophical, literary heights.  Usually I think these women are regarded as fairly revolutionary.  Involved in the male dominated world, interacting with famous movers and shakers.  That’s all very nice, but from now on, I only want to learn about women who did things.  No more poetic and tragically beautiful empty vessels.  I want to learn about women with opinions, who were mean maybe, or rude, and definitely deeply uninterested in allowing anyone to project anything onto them.  This was the exact reason why I started to cool off on Haruki Murakami, former love of my literary life.  Write a real woman, dude.  A woman who has goals and journeys of her own and doesn’t conveniently disappear after providing our everyman hero with a night of poignant and rather passive sex.  No more beautiful, deep, charmingly quirky, willing to change your life, dances in the rain barefoot, wellspring of inspiration type women.  Guess what?  If you can project whatever you want onto her, if everyone can look at that woman and see what they truly love—she’s not real.

Also!  If you wanted another reason to hate Garden State, other than the fact that it’s a shallow, emotional manipulative piece of shit, Natalie Portman’s character is the classic quirky yet acceptably beautiful girl who dances funny and changes your life.  You know who thinks lying all the time is charming?  Crazy people!  The brilliant people over at The Onion’s A.V. Club have got this shit figured right out.


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?

July 8, 2008, 2:40 pm
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This is not an entirely original post.  I’m plagiarizing myself a little here (in as much as part of this post used to exist in the livejournal universe which I left long ago) but if I don’t get to cheat with my own blog, when do I?  Exactly.

Went to evensong tonight at King’s Chapel which was amazing.  I’ve been a fairly staunch atheist for a long time now; it’s got less to do with the impossibility of the existence of god and more to do with conflicts between my feminism and institutional religion, but there you go.  No religion for me, thanks.  But I cried when the choir sang.  I have a bad habit of crying whenever I hear or see anything particular beautiful; I get the tingling in my spine and the teary eyes every time.  Really I’m just a fucking sap, but what can you do really?  Better to cry at the truly beautiful things in life than to remain totally unmoved.

And speaking of the truly beautiful things in life, here are selections from Haiku U., From Aristotle to Zola, 100 Great Books in 17 Syllablesby David M. Bader

Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita

Lecherous linguist—
he lays low and is laid low
after laying Lo.

Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis

“What have I become?”
Uncertain, Gregor Samsa
puts out some feelers.

Vatsayana’s Kama Sutra

Advice for those in
a difficult position.
First, be flexible.

Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo

Gallant avenger.
Egg-dipped cheese sandwich. Thy name
is Monte Cristo.

Hi lovely, oh so fickle.
July 2, 2008, 6:17 am
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I don’t think I would have ever guessed how much I love one of the courses I’m taking here at King’s.  The class focuses on Bloomsbury and oddly enough I can feel myself becoming obsessed despite my own attempts to stay rather detached.  All the people I ever met who were obsessed with the group were just identifying to a creepy degree with Virginia Woolf and while I can feel some part of that, I think it’s more the unraveling of a society, the way in which I can trace connections and dead ends, lovers and ideas and hangers on.  Right now, it’s fascinating me.  King’s library has a Bloomsbury archive in which I plan on immersing myself.  

I also need to immediately read all of Woolf’s big novels, right now.  I read A Room of One’s Own back in high school and fell in love.  Her advice to women writers is becoming very antiquated, which is a good thing really, but there’s something about her theory that rings true.  Even now, the best way for me to be a writer really would be to have totally financial independence and a quiet space.  I think for this reason, I was very intrigued by the Writers Room; I always like to imagine that when I graduate I’ll submit an application, get accepted, write my novel, and suddenly find I’ve made a career for myself.  But in reality, I’m terrified of writing really (strange for someone who majors in the subject) because I often feel that I lack the discipline to ever make something out of what I write.  

There’s a certain degree of necessary egotism that’s required to be a writer; you have to truly believe that you are adding something to the billions of pages already in the world, that what you have to say is worth spending time and emotion upon.  I’ve never let anyone I care about read my work.  Instead, of course, I post it here, on a fairly anonymous blog in the vast steppe of the internet. 

A slavish concern for the composition of words is the sign of a bankrupt intellect.
June 2, 2008, 11:50 am
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When I came home from school this past Christmas, I spent a considerable amount of time hunting for my copy of James Thurber’s The Thirteen Clocks and the Wonderful O, as illustrated by Ronald Searle.  I haven’t yet found it, which makes me fear deeply that it might have been accidently given away in one of family’s great book purges (to make way for new books, not because my parents are crazy book-haters or anything).  

I didn’t read The Thirteen Clocks as a small child, nor was it read to me; I think my dad gave it to me when I was around twelve or thirteen maybe.  He thought I would appreciate the witty and sarcastic verse.  I didn’t really matter how old I was.  I loved that book.  It was fantastic.  The rhymes were incredible; they were both beautifully clever and so terrible they were funny again.  The first story contained the memorable line: “Light a light or strike a lantern! Something I have hold of has no head.”  I found the book both creepy and funny, sinister yet moving.  

The best children’s books are always, in some way or another, scary.  Frankly, even as someone who can’t stand scary movies, I feel that all children’s book should terrify children.  Whether the fear comes from creepy yet lovely illustrations or seriously bizarre story lines doesn’t matter.  This is not to say that I want children to be totally traumatized by the books they read, but the books that children remember fondly when they are older and wiser are the books that somehow scared the shit out of them.  Children themselves are pretty twisted anyway; they should be put in their places with really demented literature that makes them want to be writers and also makes them want to hide under their covers until they’re fifteen.


Roald Dahl clearly understood that children need to be totally terrified.    

Things I have learned in my life so far.
May 29, 2008, 11:58 pm
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Full disclosure:  Last summer I was an intern at the publishing company that released this book.  I worked on the book a little (proofreading and copy editing) and had totally forgotten about it until I got home from college and found my copy on my desk.  (It had been kindly sent to me by my former coworkers.)  

The book is a collection of design projects based on twenty maxims that the designer, Stefan Sagmeister, feels he has learned so far.  And the book is really unexpected lovely.  Some of the art he creates is beautiful, some of it is disturbing and ugly, but what I really loved was that each phrase, no matter how banal, has a weight here that is unexpected.  For instance:

Trying to look good limits my life.


These images appeared on billboards in a field in a Parisian suburb.  And the message is true.  It’s stupidly simple, but so beautifully presented that these photographs have stuck with me since last summer.  I didn’t remember every maxim in the book; I did remember this one.  I’m someone who tends to be nearly pathologically self conscious.  I can remember changing to go over to a friend’s house and debating what I was going to wear for half an hour; worried about whether I looked too fancy, or not polished enough.  Whether people would think I was trying too hard or not hard enough.  To limit such a worry to clothing isn’t accurate either; I worry about how I’m standing or laughing or talking.  Every form of self expression feels, sometimes, like a possible opportunity for failure.  But you know what?  I’m trying not too care anymore.  Wear what you like, because truly: your friends will look at you and forget.  Talk and laugh how you like; maybe you sound funny but so does everyone else sometimes.  Trying to look good limits my life.

A cool thing for those who are intrigued.  A website has been set up by the publishing company and the designer for you to submit your own maxims, beautifully designed and presented, of course.  Check it out here:

Things I’m thinking of doing this summer.
May 21, 2008, 8:57 pm
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Working through my booklist.  

Reading books that already live upon my shelves, thereby saving money to spend on laundry, alcohol, and frivolities in England.

Purging my room and closet of unwanted things.  I aim to live a more streamlined life.  

Getting my tattoo.  This is probably not going to be accomplished, but I should at least get some serious research done regarding artists and locations.

Wearing heels more.  This one is weird, but I’ve bought a pair of blue sandals with a slight heel and usually I would buy shoes like these and only wear them for special occasions.  But now I’m starting to get to the point in my life where I feel like I should dress for me and ignore the voices in my head telling me that I look impractical.  If in my head I’ve got an outfit I think would look nice, wear it.  Life is short and I like it when I dress the way I think I’ll dress when I’m an adult.  I think I might actually be an adult now.