Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Potent Quotables

I stumbled upon this goodie in The Writer's Almanac a few days back:

"So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say. But to sacrifice a hair of the head of your vision, a shade of its colour, in deference to some Headmaster with a silver pot in his hand or to some professor with a measuring-rod up his sleeve, is the most abject treachery."

--Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own (1929)

Saturday, January 16, 2010


Here are some more close-up shots, these taken in my grandfather's basement in Dayton, Ohio. The basement always looked the same, from when we first visited as small children. Now, in preparation for selling the house, it's being slowly cleared out. I wanted to document the parts of it that always lived in my memory, and which will stick with me the most, specifically this old cash register we always used to play with...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

I'll Take That

Free Will Astrology for the Week of January 14
by Rob Brezsny

"The common idea that success spoils people by making them vain, egotistic, and self-complacent is erroneous," wrote W. Somerset Maugham. "On the contrary, it makes them, for the most part, humble, tolerant, and kind." I think the trajectory of your journey during the last 12 months tends to confirm this theory, Taurus. According to my analysis, you set new benchmarks for your personal best in 2009, while at the same time becoming a wiser, riper human being. Congrats! Now get out there and capitalize on the grace you've earned. Be as organized as possible as you share the fruits of your progress."

2009 was a happy year, and I hope I have made gains to be wiser and better and more magnanimous. I feel like I want to grow those aspects of myself even more, and continue to reach outward in whatever ways I can over the next year (reaching inward, too, to further probe my values and assumptions). And yes, the admonishment to be organized does not go amiss!

Not normally a fan of horoscopes, but this one made me feel like one of those chocolates with drippy caramel inside. Mmmmm...caramel.


If you're looking for somewhere to donate in the wake of the devastating tragedy in Haiti, consider CARE. I've been following their newsletter for a few months now, and they have been highly commended by many prominent aid experts as to their efficacy in delivering aid to those who need it most.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Deceptive Delights

On First Thursday, some friends and I checked out the Alexander Calder exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum. I never feel that I have much of a vocabulary for responding to modern art, but the more I looked at Calder's work, especially his delicate, smaller-scale mobiles and standing pieces, the more I fell under their spell. Against the white background of the gallery walls, the shadows cast by the mobiles twisted in and out of focus, the curved shapes pulsing gently, creating another dimension to the art itself. Not harshly geometric, but rather spinning on curved axes with curved shapes, his pieces are whimsical form; awkward grace.

My favorite piece was a tall, standing mobile that looked somewhat like a modified tripod with a long neck. From across the room, it appeared to be a static sculpture, but when observed close-up, the long neck bobbed almost imperceptibly up and down, off-setting the other end of the axis to bob in response. To me, it looked like a creature breathing.

(image credit: http://www.worthpoint.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/03/alexander-calder-the-star.jpg)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Top Ten of 2009

Here they are, my favorite reads of 2009 (some still in progress...here's looking at you, long-winded feminist lit.) Click on the links for more thorough reviews. In no particular order:

1. Most likely to make you contemplate a radical career change: Half the Sky, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

2. Most likely to make you weep while intermittently Googling leaders of German Romanticism: The Blue Flower, by Penelope Fitzgerald

3. Most likely to make you think, "God DAMN!" in the manner of Mrs. Mia Wallace: Something I've Been Meaning to Tell You, by Alice Munro

4. Most likely to elicit an 11 p.m. weepy phone call from a friend or relative after completion: Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson

5. Most likely to make you obsess about the consequences of First World living (and rightfully so): Collapse, by Jared Diamond

6. Most likely to make you sit in a cold park in April in order to finish it without stopping: Equus, by Peter Shaffer

7. Most likely to give you a strange sense of hope while being unemployed: Lyrical & Critical Essays, by Albert Camus

8. Most likely to leave your childish fairy stories a pile of pulverized mush, revealing someone new underneath: The Second Sex, by Simone de Beauvoir (still trucking along on this one, but almost there)

9. Most likely to reincarnate Louisa May Alcott as a bodice-ripping rebel (among other necessary transformations): A Jury of Her Peers, by Elaine Showalter (savoring this one in fits and starts - the style is well-suited for that)

10. Most likely to become the voice in your head: A tie between the recently finished There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby, by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, and Enormous Changes at the Last Minute, by Grace Paley

All reckoned, I'd say that Gilead is one of the best two pieces of fiction I've read in the past two years, the other being E.M. Forster's Howard's End. As for non-fiction, I'm already feeling shock waves from The Second Sex in my life now, and I'm still 100 pages shy of the end.

What were your favorite reads of 2009?

Just Shelved

There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby: Fairy Tales There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby: Fairy Tales by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

My rating: 4 of 5 stars Although this wonderful collection of short stories is billed as "scary fairy stories," I prefer the interpretation of Keith Gessen and Anna Summers in the introduction to their translation of Petrushevskaya's work (I admit I hadn't heard of her before a brief summary in NPR, but now understand her status as a foremost Russian author). They refer to the collected stories as nekyia, a Greek term used to "describe travels to the underworld and dialogues with the dead...(i)n this collection, nearly every story is a form of nekyia. Characters depart from physical reality under exceptional circumstances: during a heart attack, childbirth, a major psychological shock, a suicide attempt, a car accident. Under tremendous duress, they become propelled into a parallel universe, where they undergo experiences that can only be described allegorically, in the form of a parable or fairy tale." This is a much richer and more just description of the harrowing and delightful stories to be found in this collection, although certainly not all of the tales can be reduced to mere parable. Especially in the longer stories, many of which I would consider to be modern masterpieces, the fantastical flourishes highlight the tremendous absurdity of what it is to constantly be in fear, vanishings and disappearances, to horde the few luxuries one has left - in short, the very landscape of crushing poverty and government oppression. The shorter, more tale-esque stories are on the whole far less impressive and simplistic. However, the variety here reveals the virtuosity of the writer, and her stunning ability to charm and reveal; to witness and to conjure. Weird and wonderful. View all my reviews >>