Friday, May 18, 2012

Poetry for the Day

From the Book of Hours by Rainer Maria Rilke (Tran. Barrows & Macy).
No one lives his life.

Disguised since childhood,
haphazardly assembled
from voices and fears and little pleasures,
we come of age as masks.

Our true face never speaks.

Somewhere there must be storehouses
where all these lives are laid away
like suits of armor or old carriages
or clothes hanging limply on the walls.

Maybe all paths lead there,
to the repository of unlived things.
--II, 11 (partial)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Alas, the Flame


A flame is always a double-edged sword.


When putting out the ember of multiple candles by pinching the wicks between two damp fingers,  the first candle may leave soot on one's forefinger and thumb, encouraging the use of an alternate, clean finger for subsequent candles. However, the structure of the human hand is such that the thumb is uniquely necessary to the motion of pinching. These facts being what they are, an uncompromising individual who does not wish to imbibe soot may consider it viable to dampen only the clean middle finger while reusing the sooty (dry) thumb. Unfortunately, embers are not single-edged; both sides of the wick are equally capable of burning human skin.


Although the burning glow of the wick may be extinguished, the unlucky thumb will continue to register protest until it is placed in contact with an ice cube.

Lesson learned, proverb. Lesson learned.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Wrinkles and Laugh Lines

It's hard to believe that it has been a full year since I graduated with my master's degree. Looking back at my recent posts this weekend, I've realized that I write far fewer funny entries than I did in the early stages of this blog, or even last year. 

If you started reading when I was regularly turning out poetic commentaries on my filmmaker-nemesis, writing New Year's UN-resolutions, raving about the misbehavior of my computer Marvin, developing software to increase grad student productivity, anthropomorphizing my thesis, rapping about my thesis defense, or pondering alternative careers for grad students, you might find this version of Jen's Write Side a little more "Debbie Downer" than you expected.

I tell myself that one reason is the dearth of readily-available comic material: I'm not in grad school surrounded by sleep-deprived twenty-somethings, my computer functions relatively well (knock on wood), and I'm not writing a 150-page document about obscure topics from the 1500s.

Then again, if I were looking for those moments, I suspect I would still find plenty of them. David Lynch had one thing right at least: life is full of absurdity.  When I encounter it, instead of taking the time to write about it, which involves some analytical processing as well as the rhetorical canons of invention and arrangement, I take the easier alternative and post a brief comment on Facebook or Twitter. The problem, then, is not lack of content; it is lack of motivation on the writer's end.

As I continue to transition away from my longstanding linear track to a Ph.D. and into a scatter plot of lives unled that may or may not produce a valid regression line (Andrew Miller and statistics: what a combination!), I think the truth is that I'm not wearing my quirky writer glasses all that often. They don't fit as well as they did before. They need new frames, and the lenses have gotten scratched a few times. 

I like to think I'll get new ones eventually.

By re-posting some of my favorite comedic entries (I know, the subliminal message encouraging you to read those posts is thinly veiled at best), I'm trying to remind myself that I can do funny---have done it in the past and will do it again in the future. 

My hope, if I may be corny for a moment, is that the ornery wrinkles that have sprung up around my eyes this year will eventually be overwritten by laugh lines, whether that happens this coming year, or the following year, or the year after that. I don't think that's too much to wish for.

Happy Anniversary, graduate friends. See you in the funny papers.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Telling Stories About My Story

It's kind of meta. 

Today, I finished reading an excellent book: The Queen of Palmyra (2010), by Minrose Gwin. Besides being a professor of English literature (check!) in my home state (check!), Gwin documents the research behind her novel in a solid bibliography that testifies to her dedication to truth-seeking stories.

The cover blurb says, "Here it is, the most powerful and lyrical novel about race, racism, and denial in the American South since To Kill a Mockingbird." The cover of the 2009 novel The Help makes a similar claim: "This could be one of the most important pieces of fiction since To Kill a Mockingbird." I read The Help earlier this year and was disappointed by it (read a review here), but placing the two books in conversation made me appreciate Gwin's novel all the more.

Summer school course I will teach someday---a literature elective course that reads only three novels: To Kill a Mockingbird, The Help, and The Queen of Palmyra, using them to open a dialogue about narrative authority, the Bildungsroman, and the role of memory, writing, and accumulating /retelling /revising stories in making sense of race relations in the twentieth-century South. I would love to take that course, if it existed, just for the discussions---especially if I could drag some of my M.A. classmates in with me.

Unfortunately, as I thought about these ideas and began impulsively to underline passages that link the three novels together, I started to feel sad all over again about my decision not to begin graduate school this fall. This is the excitement and enthusiasm that was missing when I made my decision. This is the part of literary studies that I love and already miss. This is the sense of purpose that I wish I could maintain and channel into my daily routine.

I would be oversimplifying the matter if I ignored the weariness and anxiety that often accompany my teaching or tutoring. At the same time, being a literary scholar is still very much a part of my identity. For now, at least in a formal context, I've set that part of me aside. 

Sometimes, like tonight, I feel its absence pretty keenly.