Saturday, February 26, 2005

Un Ending

What is UP with Adam and Cello? I don't recognize us anymore.

Tonight we'll host our THIRD consecutive Saturday dinner party. This, in a week stuffed with lunch and coffee dates. Could all this socializing be a form of avoidance? I mailed off my last post-doc application yesterday (Yay!), but have yet to begin revising the manuscript that's due in four weeks. (Eep.) After tonight, I really, really must knuckle down and get back in a writing groove. Yeah, especially since we'll waste four or five (enjoyable) hours at a friend's Oscar party tomorrow night.

Time wasted. Time unlaced it. Time tasted. Time well spent.

Tomorrow, I want to remember to record here why Thursday is Fave Day and how G.(remember G.?) found Bambi in our back yard. I also want to write about a the astute professor Sandy, my orange skin, and a kidney-shaped desk. (Those are three different stories, by the way. But it would be interesting to try to combine them.)

For now, I'm off to brave the Saturday traffic. And—(unending, it falls), the snow, the snow, the snow.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Inner Critic, Peering Out

I mostly admired Jonathan Lethem's novel, Fortress of Solitude. And yet I found "The Beards," his piece in this week's New Yorker, flabby and self-indulgent. (Rather like some of the stuff I'm guilty of writing on my own blog, you might be thinking.) But we’re talking not about a self-edited blog entry here; we're talking about the New Yorker, and I just expect better from them. Lethem had one or two interesting themes, but these drowned in sticky introspection and a pretentious stream of 80s pop references. Also, I grow uncomfortable around people who talk too much about What It Means To Be a Writer. Or what it means finally to have become a writer. Or how one’s writerly soul was (aha!) both source and outcome of one’s youthful alienation.

To me, all this talk smacks of an unattractive false modesty. Of an unselfconscious egotism made worse by claims to self-awareness. When an author starts going on about his author’s heart, it’s rather like watching someone pick at a zit when he thinks he’s alone. I’m startled, fascinated, embarrassed.

Meanwhile, this guy exasperated me with his First Person column in the Chronicle. Pollyannas in academe are never as much fun to read as their more sardonic counterparts, sure. And, really, I have no quarrel with his claims that academic work is both unending and its own reward. I was more irked more by how oblivious the author appeared to the needs of his spouse who, thank goodness, did not mess up his publishing deadlines because she managed to deliver their baby (via C-section) six days late.

I'm sure this article hit close to home because Madison Randolph seemed too akin to my own partner, who occasionally tends toward the clueless and monastic. As Randolph wrote, "The projects we as academics pursue make us crazy, they bleed into our home lives and cause us immense amounts of stress." I'll accept the craziness and stress, at least in these early years of our careers. But certain academic commitments not only “bleed into our home lives,” but also, simply, bleed us of those lives. I say to hell with leeches, which never did produce a cure.

Sunday, February 20, 2005


Sometimes I wonder
what secret bloggers are here
in my department.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Miss (Woulda) Understood

Summer in St. Paul. It’s just under a month now since Adam and I eloped. Two months since we became Ph.Ds. It’s three days before the arrival of the moving van. And nine weeks before our next paychecks.

Sounds like the right time for a garage sale.

Selling books is out of the question. Might as well ask us to sell our cats. But, slowly, laboriously, we move just about everything else to the front lawn. Suitcases, filing cabinets, and Christmas decorations. An electric typewriter, exercise equipment, and my old bike.

Fondu set. Two mini-grills. Juicer. Enormous sofa bed.

Three respectable armchairs, veterans of other people’s garage sales. One hideous wall hanging, gift of a colleague with more generosity than taste. Four Waterford crystal vases, tainted by their association with my wedding at age 22. “Oh, Cello, no!” my mother later scolds. “I hope you got more than a few dollars for those.” (We did not.)

I’ve already talked in this space about how some people shop garage sales for stories, not things. That is to say, they shop for things with stories attached. There is a strict code on honor on this point. The story-seller may not lie. Or exaggerate. An item belongs with a prospective buyer only if he or she is charmed by a history that is real.

Sadly, for Ben’s bamboo-carved desk, the right buyer would not show.

(I know her, although I do not know her: an irony-loving college sophomore who dons cat-eye sunglasses before cycling in the direction of our house. Only some trifling detail keeps her from destiny. (Or desktiny?) Stung by a yellow-jacket, she pedals back to her apartment. The man out clipping hedges witnesses her alarm. He offers ice from his water jug, and an old card table that one of his mother’s tenants left behind. "Plenty sturdy for a desk,” he says, wondering, for the hundredth time that summer, why kids with money enough for college make so much noise about being "poor.”)

Imagine now a time-elapse video of our sale that day. Sun pops in the East and arcs (impatient arrow) across the sky. Shadows twitch on the grass, as grass gets flatter and flatter. Bargain hunters dart around the merchandise—first a handful, then a torrent. And then someone appears to have yanked a stopper from a drain, because the items on the lawn begin to twirl and disappear.

Sun swims on. Porch shadow floats toward us like a barge. And garage salers sail in widening circles around Ben’s desk.

4 p.m. (Stop the tape.) The desk stands alone.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Monster hates fire

Did I mention that I re-read Frankenstein this fall? I appreciated it a lot more this time around than I did at age 14. Having read Shelley's novel, I naturally had to see James Whale's 1931 movie by the same name. And that kicked off a Frankenstein obsession... I rented Bride of Frankenstein (fabulous!) and Young Frankenstein (dated, but Gene Wilder is still pretty funny). I coaxed friends to the dreadful Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (why, Kenneth, why?!), and then, redeeming myself, to the quite worthwhile Gods and Monsters.

My mind skips back to the original Frankenstein movie now, to the scene in which the monster swats at the fiery torches. "Uhhhn! Uhhhn!" Yeah, that's me with my writing deadlines pressing in. Monster wants sunlight. Monster hates fire.

Cello actually likes a good fire now and again, especially if it involves marshmallows and chocolate. Not that she could tell you much about such pleasures, since, long separated from her blog, her words have all dried up.

Try, Monster. (Try, Cello.) "BLAAAHHHHG. GOOOOD."

Throw the switch with fingers crossed: "It's alive!! It's alive!!"