Sunday, August 31, 2008

Nights like these...

When I find one song and play it over and over again, it either means that the song is absolutely amazing or I'm in the sort of mood that could go to hell at any minute. When I would get panicky in London I would recite Hail Marys. The rhythm and the idea that maybe, just maybe, someone out there would hear and understand would pull me towards the edge of sanity. I also find it's easier to think with that sort of aural repetition, my own particular sort of white noise.

When my relationship with Alex was in its death throes, I kept listening to "Buying Time" by Great Big Sea. It wasn't until a year or so later that I actually sat down and listened to the lyrics and realized that the song perfectly described my vain attempts to keep us together. I'm not sure if the lyrics to today's song will be the same sort of oracle (but I've read them just in case), but I've just hit repeat for the third time in writing this.

I'm up much later than usual, old married lady that I am. AK is by nature a creature of the night. Indeed, his mother recently apologized for passing on that trait. Right now he's sitting on my (little used) exercise ball playing some XBox game about WWII planes. I'm at the dining room table, since this is currently the only place in the house where I can get wireless (hopefully solved on Friday). This chair is incredibly uncomfortable, or maybe I'm just not used to sitting with proper posture.

I'm feeling alone tonight, but it's an okay sort of alone. By nature, I think AK and I are some of the most social anti-social people I know. At times we crave people, but more likely than not we'll spend our nights holed up in our respective rooms reading or gaming or otherwise ignoring the world.

Really, I'm just projecting - I'm far more anti-social than him. In my mind I suppose I'm still 15 and awkward (great progress, since it used to be closer to 13). It's strange sometimes how I can crave people, but it must be the exact sort of people and at the exact right time. Otherwise I just want the world to fuck off a little. I've been taking long walks around the neighborhood behind our apartment every night. AK sometimes joins me, but really I crave the solitude. I let my mind wander or guide it through day dreams or worry about whatever it is that needs to be tossed turned.

Today I thought on the late arrival of our new debit cards, the smell of the new dish soap, how AK had dinner ready when I came home from work yesterday, the usual day dreams of living the life of a single poet in London (the escapist fantasy du jour), the smell of the rain soaked pavement and the growing tightness in my Achilles tendons.

Sometimes I don't understand how I wound up here - in Portland, with AK, with a VC diploma, with sanity, with a life that's seemingly on track and ready to grow. I don't understand why there is a tiny part of me that wishes I were someone else entirely -- someone with a capacity for foreign languages, who travels, who is fearless, who hasn't a large nose and thin hair and thick hips. I look at all my bookmarks about library science and Top Gear episodes, my Goodreads list, my bare bedroom wall and wonder if this is right.

That last sentence makes it all seem a little more "Oh no, existential crisis" than it really is. I suppose since I'm on the edge of the next big step I'm going to freak out a little bit. I remember sitting on the stairs at my parents house the day I was supposed to fly to London. I was crying and crying and couldn't stop. I couldn't properly explain why I was crying - I would miss AK, but there was something else eating at me, something for which I had no words. I haven't the words now, though this ache is more of a dull throbbing, the sort of thing that wouldn't even make you reach for the ibuprofen. The worst it can do it make me question - was I right to do X, to love Y, to let go of Z? As long as I refuse to answer, I'm safe.

These are the nights when I wish I could show up at a door in Brooklyn or Iowa or London or Berkeley, completely unannounced. These are the nights when my comfort in solitude turns slowly into apprehension, apprehension to panic, panic to terror if not checked. These are the nights when I wish I had a patrolled campus spread before me, a pile of homework to hide underneath. These are the nights when I need that dream of a new and better me, something I can pull around me that's safe and familiar, like the sweater I would steal from the back of my mother's door on the few nights she actually went out.

These are the nights when the words just seem to show up and fall out behind the cursor, unbidden. I'll leave them here and head to bed, after just one more repeat.

The Safe Color is Yellow

I am the first to admit that when it comes to cinematic violence, I am a big fat baby. I still remember being about seven or eight and the terror that would strike when the theme music to Tales from the Crypt came on. My mother, who was probably sick of small children dominating the TV, let us watch a behind the scenes episode where it appeared that the Crypt Keeper was perhaps not as fake as I was originally lead to believe. For years the moaning of the organ fighting against the eerily cheerful bells forced me deeper and deeper under the covers. My internet research has recently revealed that the theme was composed by Danny Elfman, which now sounds obvious. I'm surprised I didn't notice it at the time, as Beetlejuice was one of my favorite films. And I must admit that I feel slightly betrayed.

It does seem strange that I would like one slightly comedic horror work and completely eschew the other, but who am I to argue against the vagaries of a seven year old? But this is how it's always been with my taste in movies and violence. I absolutely adore Vin Diesel's XXX (and you can all shut your faces). Lots of explosions, fights, hot double agents with Russian accents - it has it all. But no one dies violently or openly. The blood is at a tasteful minimum and the bad guys get it in the end. Yet I can do bloody, if it's at over the top levels of ridiculousness, such as with Kill Bill or Versus.

What I find myself incapable of handling is violence that appears too real. The moment I can identify with the violence, I shut down. I wince or bury my head in AK's shoulder (and he knows when to tell me it's safe to come out). This amazing ability is not limited to live action. Last night we watched the animated Beowulf, which deserves a separate rant. AK was in his chair and curled up in a corner of the couch with my knitting (we are boring old married people and that is what currently passes for an exciting Saturday night). Within minutes of the opening credits I began to cringe and yell "Oh for fuck's sake" at the screen. Did I need to see Grendel tear that guy in half? Did they have to have that much screaming? I spent the rest of the movie throwing snarky comments towards the screen (since I've read Heany's translation once, I am clearly a Beowulf expert) while reading.

What struck me about Zemeckis's version of the epic tale is how I felt much more aware of the violence in the poem. Of course a soldier devouring demon and a dragon are going to do some damage, but it felt less real on the page. Violence in books always feel less real to me, perhaps because I can choose how much I want to see and how much I want to feel. I lack that option with movies, short of closing my eyes or getting up and leaving the room. Emotional tension is harder to block out on the page, but perhaps that's because it's harder to stop myself from feeling than it is to stop myself from visualizing. This is why I still have not finished Natsuo Kirino's Out.

Maybe I'm sensitive or maybe I'm not. It's hard to say when the only perspective I have is my own. Maybe my distaste for a certain form of movie violence comes from being human (though does that necessarily make those who can deal with or enjoy it not human?). All I know is that I'm sitting here at my dining room table while AK watches The Village.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Every Day

Last night I found myself curled up in my living room chair (as supposed to my bedroom chair, where I'm now writing this) with AK stretched out on the couch. For the first time in long time we were quietly reading together; I had the aforementioned Murakami and AK had the first volume of White Wolf's collection of Fritz Leiber. There are the usual reasons for the rarity of such an event. We're both busy and often work on opposite schedules. AK reads novels at a much slower pace than me and in random spurts. However he's constantly reading stuff online while holed up in his cave. I'm still very much attached to my print and a good light source. This reliance on print is partially because the last thing I want to do when I come home from 8 hours of staring at a computer screen is to stare at another one (yes, I know I'm doing it right now, but how else to share?). I'm also addicted to the smell of ink and the texture of paper. I freely admit that I am a fan of the book as a sensual and tactile experience.

More on that at another time. The reason I bothered to mention such an idyllic domestic scene is for the conversation AK and I had about working as a writer and that it is, in fact, work. I have long lived under the illusion that writers just sat down and magically perfect prose or verse flowed out from their pens. Take Dickens. Clearly he would realize a chapter was due and then set about furiously scribbling, jumping out of his chair to mime a face in the mirror, and then back to the desk so he could finish his copy before taking a long and brisk walk through the seedier sections of London, followed by an evening at the theatre where he would talk long and loud and probably crack a few jokes at Thackeray's expense and then back the next morning to dash off another chapter.

I don't need my (otherwise useless) degrees in Victorian Studies to deduce that Dickens didn't just sit down and effortlessly compose fourteen and a half novels and god knows how many Christmas books and magazines (Kathleen Tillotson probably knew...). He worked hard and it was his dedication to his craft that made him one of the greatest novelists in the English language (NOTE: Those of you who were subjected only to Great Expectations or A Tale of Two Cities should go and pick up a copy of Bleak House and read the first page or so outloud to yourself. Then you can judge.) Murakami dedicates the early hours of the morning to writing every day. John Updike actually rented office space early in his career and still writes a set amount every day during the same set hours.

They're mad.

Well, not entirely. If I was a writer, it would make sense to dedicate at least several hours a day to my work. Just as a musician must practice, so must writers. I was a musician at a point in my life. I practiced 5-6 times a week for anywhere from half an hour to an hour, not including lessons or rehearsals. I gave up on majoring in music because I realized that not only would I never master the rudiments of piano or music theory (small stumbling blocks) but that I couldn't bring myself to practice enough. I couldn't force myself to do scales or articulation work for more than the prescribed minimum of thirty minutes. If I had an English horn and some Vaughn-Williams I could get up to over an hour, but interpreting Vaughn-Williams's cello pieces on English horn isn't exactly the most promising career option (the choice of Victorian Studies now appears blatantly obvious).

I don't mean to argue that in order to do something that you love you must do it every waking moment of your life. That would only leave you miserable and hating whatever it it you originally loved. However if you're thinking on taking on the New York Philharmonic, it might behoove you to practice for more than 3 hours a week. I'm competent at my job because I do it for 40 hours a week and have done so for two years now. It's not because I think that composing Local Holdings Records in OCLC is the greatest form of expression possible (okay, you could wax poetic in an 866 field), but rather because I create these records all the time. For a writing related example, let's take the manual I'm composing for one department. My early entries, written at least a year ago, are long winded, obscure, and poorly formatted. My newer entries are shorter, tighter, and easily skimmed. Practice, fucking practice.

This is why I'm sitting here in my chair (the bedroom one, not the living room one) and writing. I'm still not sure if I have anything really important to say, but I'm practicing.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

What I Talk About When I Talk About Writing

Even though cataloging was awesome and rushed it, I've only now started to read Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I've missed his prose. I should really be better about rereading him (and another two dozen books I can name off the top of my head), but always overwhelmed by the feeling that I should be reading something new, something different. I was a big rereader as a child - I have beat up copies of Jane Eyre, The Mayor of Casterbridge, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn to prove it. Why as an adult do I now feel this pressure to consume, to take in at an absurd pace?

Anyway, the reason I'm writing this entry is that I'm in the middle of a writing kick jump started by Murakami's prose. I've caught up on messages that have been lingering for months and am about to clear out my inboxes. In writing to a friend on Facebook today, I told him this about Murakami:

I just today started his memoir on running and have fallen in love with him again. All of his sheep craziness and lack of coherent or emotionally potent endings have been forgiven. He's the sort of writer who makes me want to write - do you ever get that feeling? They're so clear, so controlled (or control their chaos) that I can't help but want to put together words of my own.

I think the best art I've experienced pushes me towards creativity. It sets off something inside me that can only find relief in words. It always comes back to words. I've rarely felt the desire to paint while standing in a gallery, but maybe that's because I know I haven't the skills to paint. I do have the ability to write, to string words together into sentences and then sentences into paragraphs. If I can't write, I talk it out. Talking it out rarely works for me. I find I'm more likely to be misunderstood or to lose the point. I do remember walking around campus my senior year after seeing Tarkovsky's The Sacrifice with AK. I remember pacing around the observatory, talking and talking. I don't really remember what I said, but I remember how it felt, how I felt in the middle of it all.

The feeling isn't always apocalyptic or soul-shattering. There's a quieter sort of appreciation that leads more to reciting out loud or running into the other room to share a passage with someone. That's how I felt today when I reread Simon Armitage's translation/reworking of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I got excited every time I saw him change the alliteration from a liner pattern ("It's Christmas at Camelot - King Arthur's court...") to an inset pattern ("of blasting trumpets hung with trembling banners..."). Dorkish to the extreme, but combine that with a mug of tea and the sort of wind that promises a summer rain, and you've got yourself a very comfortable morning.

I suppose that the point of the entry comes to this: I write because I've been moved to write, because there's something building up in that corner or my mind or in the center of my throat and it won't be shifted otherwise. And I suppose then that I read in the hopes that something will build up in the corner of my mind or the center of my throat.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


In the spring of my Junior year, I decided that I could not longer bear being shackled to my pale Dell desktop and that I needed the freedom that only a laptop to provide. I had a summer job as a research assistant lined up, which would require hours spent typing up files of information from the university archives. I had amassed the cash and the odd VC desire to simultaneously laze on the grass outside while checking Livejournal.

With my excuses in good order, I sat down to configure a new system and then promptly turned the keyboard over to my then boyfriend. What sort of processor did I need? Graphics card? Memory capacity? Did it have wireless? My eyes blurred, my stomach turned, and I decided it was better to "let someone else deal with it". I handed the task over to my then-boyfriend and took on the massive Dell laptop on whose screen this entry currently appears.

Please do not misunderstand and label me a Luddite (especially since I have nothing to do with the textile industry). I love technology. You cannot imagine the depths of despair I can reach when my IPod runs out juice. I cannot imagine life before Wikipedia or IMDB (how did people solve arguments?). I adore jet engines, electronic databases, the beautiful scanner/fax/copier at work, and all of the wonderment that is the medical field.

Technology can be a wonderful and intensely useful thing, but there's a side of it, complex and dark and filled with sparking wires, that I simply cannot face. Today I sat down in front of my work desktop with the goal of buying a new laptop for my grad program. I had reviewed the tech requirements on the program's website and knew sort of what I needed from talking with my iPeer. I worked on the assumption that a big hard drive is good, memory essential, Vista is icky but I'll probably have to get it anyway, and that I cannot be bothered to configure a Mac for use with my grad program. I have been rather underwhelmed by my Dell laptop and have a nice discount through the IBM employee program (Thanks, Dad!), so Lenovo won.

After putzing about and annoying my husband, I pinged a wonderful coworker of mine for help. She's the systems/tech librarian, sat down and helped me configure the laptop I needed and then ran it against another online deal she had spotted. Twenty minutes later I punched in my credit card number (though no one really needs to punch nowadays, do they? Keyboards are far more sophisticated... or is it referring to punch cards?) and I'm now checking the website every three minutes to see if it's shipped yet.

The above is partially why I'm terrified of entering a field that is becoming increasingly entwined with advances in technology. Though I haven't any problems with software or playing around with software or breaking software. It's the hardware that's scary and expensive and difficult to recover if I suddenly wipe something. But then I sit back and wonder is this will actually make me a better librarian because I too have tasted fear and have had to work hard to understand exactly what's going on? I know that I'll never be the sort to be able to build my own computer from scratch, unless technology advances so far that Legos will soon have more hard drive space than the antiquated thing I'm using to right now. But maybe hardware is just less important now. It's all about apps and what you can download and what you can do. We seem to be less and less concerned as to how it's done. That's certainly the attitude we assume in our patron base; they're really not going to care if it's VPN on the back end or if they're looking at our OCLC vs local holdings. They want the item and they wanted it yesterday.

It's learning to use the software that's key and this seems to be mainly where library instruction lies. There are so many databases and finding aids and entry points out there that keeping them in order or learning to use them in the best manner can be virtually impossible. This is perhaps where I'll find my place as a librarian. Technology can't possibly make us obsolete as it keeps opening doors and dumping data all over the place. We can help people pick through it and store and use what they find.

This was rambly and not very original, but I wanted to get something down today. It won't get better unless I practice... or until my new laptop shows up.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Statement of Purpose (or at least a Statement of Something Approaching a Goal)

For the first time in weeks I went for a long run and remembered why I miss NY summers. I miss my weekly rainstorms.

Don't get me wrong, Oregon certainly delivers on the precipitation front (get it?), but usually the heavier rains coincide with lower temperatures and nasty winds. I miss getting soaked when it's warm enough to venture out in a t-shirt and shorts. I miss the smell of hot, damp pavement. I miss waking up shivering to booming thunder.

Anyway, we've finally hit a break in the heat and I'm glorying in it, especially because I can run more than a mile when nature provides a continual aid station. Around mile 2 today my legs started to get that "I could run forever" feeling. I haven't felt that in too long. It made me remember why I put on my shoes at all.

When my legs go on autopilot my mind finally starts to relax. It becomes wonderfully quiet and functional all at once. I don't obsess over not having researched a new laptop this weekend or the amount of loan I'm taking out for grad school or that I've gained weight or any of the normal shit that bothers me when I'm trying to fall asleep. Maybe it's increased blood flow or brain chemicals or the solid rhythm of my feet - I don't really know, but it works.

The point to all of the preambling is I finally figured out what I want to do with this space. I read a number of blogs where people have solid opinions, be it on books or politics or feminism or the state of the world. I admire them all but I finally have to admit that I cannot do what they do. I've never been the sort of person who has felt comfortable taking a solid stand and broadcasting it. My mind is too slippery or, when I do have a solid opinion, I find I lack the means to express it in a coherent way. It never comes out right.

However I do want to write. Correction - I need to write. I've kept a paper journal since I was 13 (they're all stored away in the trunk my mother bought me when I went away to college, along with old letters, programs, and my prom corsage). There are certain thoughts that need to be scraped out of my head and laid onto paper in order for me to digest them or share them or be rid of them. It's just the way I've always been.

But I'm still not sure that I'm a word person. I lack the facility of certain polyglot friends with the intricacies of language. I probably couldn't properly diagram an English sentence. I have a handful of French phrases left, a few Latin words and that's about it. I write the way I speak, the way I think it should sound. And yes, along the way a few commas will be lost or unnecessarily added, but that's just how I roll.

Anyway, the point is that I think I am going to use this space to train my writing, like trellis for ivy. I agree with Stephen Fry (and others) that poetry is a distillation of language. I often quote Strunk and White: "Omit needless words". Yet writing this I have already deleted over two dozen unnecessary bits of verbiage. I can't seem to help myself. Perhaps I read too many long-winded Victorians as an impressionable child. Perhaps I just lack the self-editing gene (which would explain why I am incapable of outlining papers or drafting properly).

So this space will be a dumping ground for the refuse of my mind, which I will then attempt to stack in some sort of orderly fashion. I will try to post at least twice a week. I will avoid filling this space with "I drank a cup of black tea and stared at the wall and decided to take a walk" shit. I will someday get the balls to post some poetry. I doubt I will ever get the balls to post fiction.

And the gauntlet is thrown. Let's see if she can keep it up.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Well, this has worked out well...

I'm not quite sure what's accounted for the silence of late. Grad school chaos? The typical frantic nature of summer (the husband works non-stop and travels and is generally all over the place)? A certain reluctance to share any thoughts because I'm not convinced they're worth sharing or even well presented?

Let's try again.

The banal update: still alive, not running as much (too hot and I've given up on trying to do the PDX marathon this year), reading as fast as I can in fear of the approach of grad school and the cessation of free time, not traveling to see people I care about, panicking about purchasing a new laptop for grad school, freaking out about grad school, quietly anticipating Summit migration, working my way through The Ode Less Travelled, and trying to find a local substitute for Twinings Black Currant tea. All in all, exciting times.

On a somewhat, but tenuously so, related note:

In the last issue of the OLA Quarterly, the twin ideas of change and embracing change threaded together each article. The past year (well, honestly the past two years... three?) have been nothing but unending and ever increasing change. I think I've learned to roll with it better than before; I make this assessment based on the number of panic attacks suffered/prevented, number of passive-aggressive locked Livejournal posts, number of snark filled lunches etc. I'm incredibly excited about the future - I'm taking the first major step towards becoming a professional and towards actual adulthood (i.e. I will someday be able to afford a house) in a field that is constantly moving, that always seems to be looking for the best way to do something, for ways to improve. It's fucking terrifying, too. I'm not really as ballsy as I think I am. I mean, talking to customer service representatives on the phone is still an act of incredible will and fortitude. But I'm starting to feel that life is pulling together somehow.

Last night AK and I took a long walk around the neighborhood after dark. We started to talk about friends of ours who have problems working with particular coaches because the coaches are their friends/partners etc. AK brought up the point that from fairly early on in our coaching relationship, which is concurrent with and a part of our emotional relationship, we knew we were heading towards marriage. We had to develop ways of communicating respectfully with each other on the strip and that carried off into the rest of our relationship, and vice versa. I'm still struck sometimes by how well we can communicate. He often understands me better than I ever could have hoped and when I compare us now to how we were back in August of 2005, I'm shocked. I didn't really think we could have turned out this well.

But back to work I must go, and listchecking and reserves and all of that. Here's hoping I'll actually post content again in the future.