Jeans with Holes, Illustrated Men, and Fairy Tales of the Strangest Sort

I don’t have a story to tell tonight or anything particular I want to talk about but for some reason I feel like talking about something, so hmmm… I’ll guess I’ll just be unparticular and talk about whatever random, non-specific thing comes to mind.

My Favorite Pair of Jeans
After my lament about growing up and trading my old torn jeans for my new colored pants, my friend Stephanie dug up an old photo of me wearing the pants that I loved so.

I don’t know what I like most about this photo–the awesomeness of the jeans, the fact that my face is full of braces, the subtle rainbow hair-ribbon you can just make out in the corner of the photo, Steph’s U.S. Navy poster that she got during our Closeup trip to Washington D.C., or the fact that we’re lounging on her bed most-definitely listening to CDs from the huge CD case at my feet. Ha, what good times. But thank god they’re over.

From This Outer Edge of Life, Looking Back
I finished The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury a couple of weeks back and it was (and is) a wonderful collection. There is one story, Kaleidoscope, about a group of men whose ship is lost and they all end up flying different directions in space, knowing they’re about to die, and even though each man is alone they can still hear each others’ voices over their headsets. The entire story is haunting for obvious reasons but I found this passage especially so…

‘That isn’t important,’ said Hollis. And it was not. It was gone. When life is over it is like a flicker of bright film, an instant on the screen, all of its prejudices and passions condensed and illuminated for an instant on space, and before you could cry out, ‘There was a happy day, there a bad one, there an evil face, there a good one,’ the film burned to a cinder, the screen went dark.

From this outer edge of life, looking back, there was only one remorse, and that was only that he wished to go on living. Did all dying people feel this way, as if they had never lived? Did life seem that short, indeed, over and done before you took a breath? Did it seem this abrupt and impossible to everyone, or only to himself, here, now, with a few hours left to him for thought and deliberation?

Makes me wonder how Bradbury felt when his time really did come. I wonder if he was ready for it, since he’d written about the end so many times. Of course, if this passage is any indication of course he wasn’t ready for it. It’s sad. But also lovely that he knew what life meant, that he felt its value and its loss. Not everyone has that.

I Would Rather  Have Something Living Than All The Treasures In the World
I’ve started taking a MOOC (Massive, Online, Open, Course which means a free online course from Corsera and the University of Michigan) called Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World.

I’m taking it, in part for work, because I work in higher education and I’m curious about these MOOCs and whether or not they’re really worth anyone’s time. (There’s been so much hype about them, it’s hard not to be skeptical.) But I’m also taking it for myself, because as an English major who has long been wandering the world, lost and separated from my classes and discussions, I thought I’d check it out and see if I can get a bit of that academia back that I’ve been missing.

Right now, we’re reading Grimm’s Fairy Tales and they’ve been fun. Ever since I discovered Kelly Link’s short stories, Aimee Bender, and the collection My Mother She Killed Me, Father He Ate Me, I’ve been a tad obsessed with fairy tales.  However, I’ve been a bit backwards in my reading and have been reading all the modern adaptations of the classics rather than the classics themselves. So now, here’s my chance to read the originals.

A lot of the writing in Grimm’s tales is in that very matter-of-fact tone that most fairy tales are known for–like one of my favorite endings, “And so they were all dead together.” I like this tone. I like that the simplicity of the tales’ delivery is part of what makes them both fun and disturbing. But some of the passages and the stories I’ve taken the most notice of are the ones where a little bit of poetry and that more “fancy” language comes out. It’s like the emotion is there, just under the surface of all that matter-of-factness–and it can’t help but sneak out from time to time.

Like in the beginning of The Frog Prince

In the old times, when it was still of some use to wish for the thing one wanted

Or in Faithful John when the prince sets eyes upon a picture of a beautiful princess…

“My love for her is so great that if all the leaves of the forest were tongues they could not utter it!”

Or when Rumpelstilskin explains why he wants the poor girl’s first child and not her riches…

“No, I would rather have something living than all the treasures in the world.”

It’s so sad. I almost feel bad for Rumpelstilskin. He does seem a rather lonely fellow, even if he does want to steal away some poor girl’s first born child. Especially because he wants to steal away her child. And the princes’ odd tongue metaphor is rather sweet. And the beginning of the Frog Prince is so perfectly bittersweet. It hints that now, these times, it’s not worth wishing for things. Wishes don’t come true now, so it’s not even worth trying. But oh, once, though the stories were often harsh and cruel and bitter (just like our real world today is), once wishes were worth making. There’s a sad kind of beauty there.

Needless to say, I’m enjoying the stories. The course itself, I’ll wait to pass judgement on. But, hey, if it gets me to read more and be disciplined, then it’s worth my time I suppose.

The supreme question about a work of art is out of how deep a life does it spring.

I stumbled across a series of etchings Henri Matisse did for a printing of Ulysses in 1935 while going through my news feeds tonight. They are wonderful and the book looks amazing. Read the post and check out the rest of the etchings on Brain Pickings. There is a $30,000 book signed by both Joyce and Matisse. I don’t know why but it seems crazy to me that such a thing even exists. I might have to make a trip to the museum this weekend.

A Potato Reading Virginia Woolf

Your eyes do not deceive you, that is indeed a potato reading Virginia Woolf. You see potatoes love post-modernism and the stream-of-consciousness style of writing. I do as well. That’s why I bought this custom print from Marc Johns, who will forever hold a special place in my heart.

It Takes a Worried Man to Sing a Worried Song
I’ve been digging on Pete Seeger today. He’s like  Mr. Rodgers with a guitar. Or maybe like that guy who tells everyone to paint happy little clouds. Anyways, he’s pretty amazing. Here he is on the Johnny Cash show:

“You know these old songs, they never really die out. This song is the whole human race!”

This is the song I remember my parents playing as a kid:

Funny how at the time I just thought it was a fun, silly song with boxes and colors. I thought ticky-tacky was a good thing. It was such a silly word and it was so fun to say. As it turns out ticky-tacky is just the man trying to get me down! Once again, I have been disenchanted. But, you know, in a good way.

Strangers’ (Books) on a Train
Tonight on my way home, the passengers of the J train were reading the following:

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman 

The Devil in the White City by Eric Larson

Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne

The Imperfectionists really wasn’t too great in my opinion, but only because I really wanted it to be great and it let me down. Sometimes I think the idea of a book is better than the actual book. (You can read my whole Goodreads review here.) The Devil in the White City sounded cool–murders and the World’s Fair. Okay, sounds cool, I’ll bite. And I’ve never read Journey to the Center of the Earth but I absolutely loved the cheesy movie they made us watch in grade school.

And okay, since I’m YouTube happy today, I have to embed the old trailer:

Oh man, that takes me back. How glorious. There’s something completely wonderful about old movie trailers.

Time Does Not Exist. I Ate It.
I’m still reading The Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace and it’s still wonderful. Below is a selection that had me laughing out loud the other night. I should have shortened it up for you but I had a hard time stopping myself. (I guess I’m not the only one.)

“Didn’t I say to look at me? Can’t you tell what I am? Listen to me very carefully. I am an obese, grotesque, prodigal, greedy, gourmandizing, gluttonous pig. Is this not clear? I am more hog than human. There is room, physical room, for you in my stomach. Do you hear? You see before you a swine. An eating fiend of unlimited capacity. Bring me meat.”

“Have you not eaten in a very long time? Is that it?”

“Look, you’re beginning to bother me. I could bludgeon you with my belly. I am also, allow me to tell you, more than a little well-to-do. Do  you see that Building over there, the one with the lit windows, in the shadow? I own that Building. I could buy this restaurant and have you terminated. I could and perhaps will buy this entire block, including that symbolically tiny Weight Watchers establishment across the street. See it? With the door and windows so positioned as to form a grinning, leering, hollow-cheeked face? It is within my financial power to busy that place, and to fill it with steaks, fill it with red steak, all of which I would and will eat. The door would under this scenario be jammed with gnawed bone; not a single little smug psalm-singing bagging-skinned apostate from the cause of adiposity would be able to enter. They would pound on the door, pound. But the door would hold. They’d lack the build to burst through. Their mouths and eyes would be wide as they pressed against the glass. I would demolish, physically crush the huge scale at the end of the brightly lit nave at the back of the place under a weight of food. The springs would jut out. Jut. What a delicious series of thoughts. May I see a wine list?”

“‘Weight Watchers?”

“Garcon, what you have before you is a dangerous thing, I warn you. Human beings act in their own interest. Huge, crazed swine, do not. My wife informed me a certain time-interval ago that if I did not lose weight, she would leave me. I have not lost weight, as a matter of fact I have gained weight, and thus she is leaving. Q.E.D. And A-1, don’t forget the A-1.”

“But sir, surely with more time…” 

“There is no more time. Time does not exist. I ate it. It’s in here, see? See the jiggle? That’s time, jiggling. Run, run away, fetch me my platter of fat, my nine cattle, or I’ll envelop you in a chin and fling you at the wall!”

“Shall I fetch the maitre d’, sir? To confer?

“By all means, fetch him. But warn him against getting too close. He will be encompassed instantly, before he has time to squeak. Tonight I will eat. Hugely, and alone. For I am now hugely alone. I will eat, and juice might very well spurt into the air around me, and if anyone comes too near, I will snarl and jab at them with my fork–like this, see?”

“Sir, really!”

“Run for your very life. Fetch something to placate me. I’m going to grow and grow, and fill the absence that surrounds me with my own gelantinous presence. Yin and Yang. Ever growing, waiter. Run!”

“Right away, sir!”

“Some breadsticks might have been nice, too, do you hear? What kind of place is this, anyway?”

Oh, Lord Byron, you’re my favorite of all the heroes

Today’s poem is a selection from an old favorite…

I have not loved the world, nor the world me,–
But let us part fair foes: I do believe,
though I have found them not, that there may be
Words which are things,–hopes which will not deceive,
And virtues which are merciful, nor weave
Snares for the failing; I would also deem
O’er others’ griefs that some sincerely grieve;
That two, or one, are almost what they seem,–
That goodness is no name,
and happiness no dream.

From Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage by Lord Bryon

(Please note: This blog post was originally much longer and more interesting but I accidentally deleted it and I’m sorry, but I can’t write all that all over again at the current moment. The poem, however, is still very nice.)


The blues, the horror, the everyday, and the I don’t know what

I’ve been reading and listening to a lot lately and I’d like to talk about it now if you don’t mind…

The Blues:

While trying to write the other weekend, I was listening to some classic Appalachian blues and some of the lyrics were so awesome I had to write them down.

With great titles like Hesitation Blues, The Sky is Falling, and Way On the Outskirts of Town how could theses songs not be completely wonderful? There’s something so simple and true about the blues. It’s like reaching down and grabbing something straight out of your gut. What that something is exactly, I’m not so sure but that’s one of the great things about the blues, and most music for that matter–you don’t have to understand it to know it’s great.

Some of my favorite lyrics…

Put your man in your bed, put your husband down on the floor.

I was a playboy, I couldn’t be true. I couldn’t believe I really loved you. But when you left me, oh how I cried. You don’t miss your water till your well runs dry.

See what you done done.

Don’t you marry no concrete man.

Look over yonder, tell me what you see. Yonder come the blues running after me.

I could tell you about my life. And keep you amused I’m sure. About all the times I’ve cried. And how I don’t want to be sad anymore. And how I wish I was in love.

The Horror:

I finished Stephen King’s On Writing a couple of weeks ago and it had some fun stories and good advice. I’ve never actually read King’s fiction (I’ve been meaning to pick up some short stories of his but haven’t gotten around to them yet) but I’ve read his essays and articles before and I’m always interested in how different types of writers approach the craft. King’s book had some good practical advice on how to live and write at the same time. I’m sure there’s some piece of literary criticism out there, or maybe just another blog, that articulates this better but there are writers and there are storytellers. I think you can be such a good writer that you can tell a story about farting (actually farting is pretty funny and entertaining so that’s a bad example) or about um… sitting in a chair, and it will be wonderful. On another note, you can be a pretty mediocre writer but if you have wonderful magic-filled stories then they’ll be wonderful as well. And I don’t just mean Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings magic. I also mean Cormac McCarthy, Jack Kerouac, or I dunno, Steve Tolz magic. (If you haven’t read A Fraction of the Whole yet, oh man, go get that book right now because it’s so much fun.)

But yes, Stephen King is a story-teller more than a writer. But he’s a great writer as well. He’s maybe not my favorite kind of writer but he is quite good.

And, as you can imagine, his writing book/biography had some great tips but it was also just a fun story about one writing man’s life. Some favorite lines…

It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.

You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair–the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.

I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs and I will shout it from the rooftops.

Words create sentences; sentences create paragraphs; sometimes paragraphs quicken and begin to breathe.

You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.

The Everyday:

This week I’ve been reading a collection by John Updike, Pigeons Feathers and other stories. I had only read a couple of Updike stories here or there in college or in The New Yorker–I had probably read more about Updike than his actual stories. But, oh man, he is everything everyone said he was. His writing is completely delightful and amazing. Some of his descriptions are simply wonderful. They remind me of why, haha, I want to write. But also why I read. Why I go on reading new things and looking for new authors and stories and words and word combinations to fall in love with. Because maybe, just maybe, in that next book I open I might find and fall in love with something like this…

A barn, in day, is a small night The splinters of light between the dry shingles pierce the high roof like stars, and the rafters and crossbeams and built-in ladders seem, until your eyes adjust, as mysterious as the branches of a haunted forest.

I know just that feeling but I could never express it so beautifully. Or what about this…

What did we say? I talked about myself. It is hard to hear, much less remember, what we ourselves say, just as it might be hard for a movie projector, given life, to see the shadows its eye of light is casting. A transcript, could I produce it, of my monologue through the wide turning point of that night, with all its word-by-word conceit, would distort the picture: this living room miles from home, the street light piercing the chinks in the curtains and erecting on the wallpaper rods of light the size of yardsticks, our hosts and companions asleep upstairs, the incessant sigh of my voice, coffee-primed Molly on the floor beside my chair, her stockinged legs stretched out on the rug; and this odd sense in the room, a tasteless and odorless aura unfamiliar to me, as of a pool of water widening.

Ahh… I love it! Or, okay, so this next passage is best read within the context of the entire story but I simply can’t help myself…

He dug the hole, in a spot where there were no strawberry plants, before he studied the pigeons. He had never seen a bird this close before. The feathers were more wonderful than dog’s hair, for each filament was shaped within the shape of the feather, and the feathers in turn were trimmed to fit a pattern that flowed without error across the bird’s body. He lost himself in the geometrical tides as the feathers now broadened and stiffened to make an edge for flight, now softened and constricted to cup warmth around the mute flesh. And across the surface of the infinitely adjusted yet somehow effortless mechanics of the feathers played idle designs of color, no two alike, designs executed, it seemed, in a controlled rapture, with a joy that hung level in the air above and behind him. Yet these birds bred in the millions and were exterminated as pests. Into the fragrant open earth he dropped one broadly banded in slate shades of blue, and on top of it another, mottled all over in rhythms of lilac and gray. The next was almost wholly white, but for a salmon glaze at its throat. As he fitted the last two, still plaint, on the top, and stood up, crusty coverings were lifted from him, and with a feminine, slipping sensation along his nerves that seemed to give the air hands, he was robed in this certainty: that the God who had lavished such craft upon these worthless birds would not destroy His whole Creation by refusing to let David live forever.

Finding God and heaven in a pile of dead pigeons? I mean, come on, does it get any better than that? Ha, not for me I suppose. But I love the sublime in the everyday. I love it when authors do that. Find that. Create that. (OMG, it’s like so totally Virginia Woolf.) And, my goodness, there is so much beautiful and perfect in that small piece of prose I can hardly stand it. It’s enough to make me hold a hand to my heart and say things like, My goodness. Ha, like I’m some kind of old woman out of breathe from a walk through the park or a scandalous scene in a move.

So ya, I really like Updike. I recommend him. Go on, go get you some Updike. You won’t regret it.

The I Don’t Know What:

So to supplement my other reading and mix things up a bit I’ve also been reading Barry Hannah’s Airships. I’m not really sure how to describe Hannah but the word raw comes to mind. Raw and maybe dirty. Maybe it just seems authentic. I dunno, something about him and his writing reminds me of the blues lyrics I was writing down up above. Maybe some art comes from the heart and some comes from the gut. Then again, maybe it all comes from the same unknown place and I don’t know what I’m talking about. Either way, here are some passages….

She sat on the rear fender and they went off in the damned most bizarre juxtaposition you ever saw. Similar to a circus tandem but not for fun. This was loyalty and romance, brothers. I know he was leaving blood up the road, though you couldn’t see it at night. The bike was wobbling all over the place, but they were going ahead.

That was some man, that boy.

In the alleys there were sighs and derisions and the slide of dice in the brick dust.

Some of us are made to live for a long time. Others for a short time. Donna wanted what she wanted. I gave it to her.

The old man who’d told his story was calm and fixed to his place. He’d told the truth. The crowd on the pier was outraged and discomfited. He wasn’t one of them. But he stood his place. He had a distressed pride. You could see he had never recovered from the thing he’d told about.

I am her always and she is my always and that’s the whole trouble.

I’m not sure how to end this little post of mine so I’ll sum it up with one more quote from an old poetry professor of mine…

Books are great. I like books. People should get ’em.

Lovely things found online…

In addition to my usual San Francisco wanderings and adventures, I actually had time to go through all my blogs and news feeds last weekend and found some great stories and things to share. Here are a few:

Life Lessons from Roald Dahl
from Green Apple Book’s blog

Roald Dahl’s birthday was September 13th and there’s a new biography out about him so he’s gotten more attention than usual lately. Green Apple’s list is delightful and brings back some favorite moments from his books. I love, “It’s okay to make your grandmother disappear if she’s really unpleasant,” and “Never let your guard down around an adult with power and a sharp object.” Here are some additional lessons I learned:

  • Never trust a woman in square-toed shoes.
  • It’s okay to steal from rich people as long as they’re mean.
  • If you have super powers, it’s best to use them for revenge.
  • Not all giants are bad.

Fun side note: Roald Dahl’s official website farts.

The Greenwich Village Bookshop Door
Online exhibit

This particular door has been signed by 242 writers, artists, and publishers and now they have this great online exhibit where you can explore all of them. I love thinking of writers and artists gathering in the same physical space. It seems almost magic how these communities get formed. It’s like Stein’s house in Paris. And it makes me wonder if there are any of these places around right now that I just don’t know about. Are all the future masterminds at some random coffee shop signing the back of a bathroom stall? I dunno, but it’s a fun thought. I wish I could get a poster or a print of the door.

Mysterious Paper Sculptures Found in Scottish Libraries
from the Central Station Blog

This is great. Someone is leaving random, beautiful, intricate paper sculptures all over Scottish libraries. My favorite is probably the coffee cup one:

But I love the quote from the dragon:

Once upon a time there was a book and in the book was a nest and in the nest was an egg and in the egg was a dragon and in the dragon was a story…

Sigh. How lovely. I wish all mysteries were about the origin of art and words. People do nice things sometimes. It’s good to be reminded.

Of course all life is a process of breaking down…

Of course all life is a process of breaking down, but the blows that do the dramatic side of the work — the big sudden blows that come, or seem to come, from outside —  the ones you remember and blame things on and, in moments of weakness, tell your friends about, don’t show their effect all at once. There is another sort of blow that comes from within — that you don’t feel until it’s too late to do anything about it, until you realize with finality that in some regard you will never be as good a man again.

-F. Scott Fitzgerald from The Crack-Up

Wow. Amazing. I read this the other day and it was so beautiful and sad and true that it completely depressed yet enthralled me at the same time. I have to take a moment right now and be a complete great big mushy mess of a dork but can I just say…

I. Fucking. Love. Great. Writing.

Maybe that’s not so mushy (throwing an f-bomb in there certainly helps things out) but it is me overflowing with awe.

I love it when you come across a piece of writing that so perfectly and adequately portrays a piece of the world or an experience of it, an emotion or a feeling, a moment in life, that you recognize and come to understand something you never had before.

For instance…

Maybe you have begun to feel this vague unnameable pain but can’t explain where it came from or what exactly it is. Maybe it is something so small and so subtle that you barely take notice of it. Maybe it is almost nothing, maybe it is the smallest of sensations like an itch or a limb that has fallen asleep. But then, ah, but then… But then this beautiful perfect horrible little passage comes along and spells it all out for you and you realize what it is you have been feeling. Suddenly your pain is not so vague. It is specific and real, it does not have a name but it has words and an explanation. It has been made personal and universal and has connected you to this great big mass of people who have experienced the same thing. Who have read the same thing or written about the same thing, talked about it and created art about it, and really it is put so beautifully and perfectly that it’s not painful at all. It’s just real. It’s just art. It’s just life and art interacting and overlapping and, fuck ya, I love that shit!

Ha, so yes, obviously I’m being excessively poetic and dramatic tonight. Sorry about that but it’s how I feel so too bad for you.

One of my favorite lines about the desperate power of writing comes from a short story, My Hustlers by Edmund White:

My writing would turn all this evil into flowers.

Writing, a certain type of great writing, can turn something evil into flowers. Or something painful into beauty. Just by putting it into words and arranging them in the right way. It’s such a simple yet completely complicated thing. And then there are other moments, other pieces of great writing, that turn flowers into evil. Or something beautiful into pain. It’s amazing to me sometimes. A great passage in a book or a great piece of art can be completely humbling in the same way the ocean or a mountain range can. There’s a power in great things like that. I haven’t quite gotten far enough in my personal development (or whatever it is you call this growing and progressing as a human being thing) to know exactly what it is I’m trying to talk about, or what exactly that power is. Ha, but I have a vague kind of feeling.

So ya, I’ve been reading a lot of stuff lately. It’s been good and it makes me crazy and awake and just a little bit drunk on words and writing.

But it’s getting late and I’ve probably had too much. Ha, and said too much as well. And if I read one more chapter I just may pass out.

Hmmm… that sounds kind of nice actually. I think I’ll go do that now.