24 January 2010

Stepping Out From the Page

...I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes

(Don't worry. This isn't really going to be a post about Ulysses. It was just the first thing I thought of when I saw the prompt; furthermore, for my trouble I now have a Kate Bush song stuck in my head as well. Instead, this is going to be a post about some other, mostly unrelated, things.)

All writing comes from the place of Yes. All life comes from the place of Yes. My study this semester has been within the context of Yes or No--I'm doing readings on representations of the Holocaust, and on violence, visuality, and race. Questions have come up about whether or not to look, whether or not to speak, to acknowledge. And I am torn. Because to me, all life comes from the place of Yes. And yet, so many of my mistakes have also come from what seems like a Yes, that should have been a No. (I sort of have boundary issues.)

How can we measure? How can we speak? How can we look?

How can we bear to turn away?

This week I read Susan Sontag's essay "On Photography" and it made me viscerally angry in a way her other writing doesn't. Especially the part where she talks about photojournalists choosing a photo op over a life. It made me want to fling this in her face, the life of the greatest man I have known, a man who has chosen life, a man whose life is one big Yes, a man who has given his own life over and over again for the lives of those he photographs. It made me want to tell her to get up from behind the barricade of her own desk, her own death, and say Yes.

Right now I am waiting--here, I'm about to say this out loud for the first time in public--application decisions to three PhD programs (the fourth has a deadline in February). Right now my own future hangs in the balance of Yes or No. This has not made me a happy puppy. In fact, it's made me a very spastic puppy. For some reason, this past week has been particularly difficult, with the starting up of two new spring semesters and the waiting and a personal issue all bundling into one big fuzzy Maybe. I'm not liking it. It's resulted in tears almost daily, long sleepless nights, and--just yesterday--one half-full box of paperbacks launched in outraged frustration against the back wall of the storage facility where most of my belongings are (still) housed. Not my finest moment, though I was impressed with my upper body strength for a minute there.

It's made me realise how much of my life has been lived in the Maybe, in the interstices between Yes and No, how much I try to get away with foisting the decision on someone else. How not saying Yes is not the same as saying No. How much responsibility I try to avoid. We all try to avoid. How little I like feeling powerless. I wish this post had an uplifting ending, a kick at the end like Molly Bloom's Yes, but right now that apparently isn't my lesson. Because right now I am being asked to say Yes to the Maybe, and I am not liking it one bit.

How am I supposed to say Yes to something that is bigger than me? How can I measure? How can I speak? How can I look?

How can I bear to turn away?

11 January 2010


It just so happens that one of my greatest peeves in life is stickers on my books. Any kind of stickers. Price tags, those yellow USED stickers, Oprah's Book Club stickers (those are the worst), anything. Hate them. You may have noticed, I'm a little particular about my reading materials. Okay, I'm particular about a bunch of things, and opinionated about almost everything, but for some reason, I cannot stand stickers on my books. As a result, the first thing I do upon roosting after a trip to the bookstore is unpack my bags and peel off whatever thing has been defacing my precious booky. (For the record, pun barely noticeable in today's media, I'm also the same way about immediately unwrapping my CD purchases. And don't even get me started on shrinkwrapped books. It's not like they have to stay fresh.)

Last week I purchased textbooks for the spring semester--which included Stickers, All Kinds. Almost all the books were used, but even worse the college I attend uses particularly odious pricing stickers the size of my hand, stickers that could have patched the Mauritania, stickers that....well, in a word, stick. Since Law and Order was on, I settled down on the floor in front of the television with a trash can, a tower of books almost as tall as a FireCat sitting on a floor, a paper towel, and the industrial size bottle of Goo-Gone. My father was amused enough to take a few pictures of this, but I shan't post them, as the shirt I am wearing is tissue-weight and my slouched posture leaves something to be desired in the body-fat-appearance category. (On the plus side, I have excellent cleavage in both shots. But I digress.) His reason for this was he wanted documentary proof of "the sadness."

Sadness? What? How could anyone be sad surrounded by that many squeaky-clean books? Even if half of them were about the Holocaust and the other half were about visuality, violence and race (hey, it's the only two classes they were offering that weren't about Thornton Wilder, and I've already taken that.) Only one lonely poetry book by Eavan Boland rounded out the group. Anyway. I embrace my nerdliness. He wasn't going to shame me with this.

And then, the next night, I found myself in the same place, polishing my multivitamin capsules one at a time.

I so wish I were kidding about this. But one of the capsules apparently exploded, split along the seam, or just gave up the gelatin ghost, and the contents oozed all over the bottle, coating all the other vitamins with gunk. This wouldn't have been a problem if it hadn't been excruciatingly foul-tasting gunk of the "making a face like a cat eating a peanut-butter sandwich" variety. And this stuff had gotten
e v e r y w h e r e . So there I was, with a little white terrycloth bar towel, carefully polishing each phyto-fucking-estrogen until it gleamed as darkly as my thoughts.

Incidentally, this particular variety of vitamins is also particularly hard to unseal from its hermetic little peel-off lid. Seriously, GNC ought to give some thought to this problem. Do they really want a bunch of women within eyeshot of perimenopause to be so frustrated with their packaging that they must resort to wielding sharp objects? I'm thinking not. But that's another post entirely.