...except for me and my monkey! "Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see." -Rene Magritte

Saturday, January 29, 2005

At some point, I'm going to have to stop buying and start reading

For my Sociology/Anthroplogy class, Qualitative Research Methods, we all have to write a "thick description" about our dorm rooms or bedrooms. The professor hasn't said what we're going to do with them yet, but she instructed us to use gender-neutral language and to not include identifying information, so my guess is that we're going to swap papers and then try to determine what a person is like based on what they have in their room. I've got a lot of random crap (700 or so origami cranes strung together, an Arabic Coke bottle, a map of Mexico, UGT flags, tons of books, etc) in my room, so I'm looking forward to writing my paper and seeing what others can deduce about my personality based on my possessions. At the very least, that I'm a major pack-rat.

On the other hand, I don't want to come across as a total slob with piles of newspapers and books lying all over the place, even though that's...often the state of my side of the dorm. Messy in a quirky sort of way yes; slovenly no. So today I resolved to at least put all my books back on the shelves. Those of you who visited my room last year may remember that I kept all my school books on the shelf above my desk, so that they'd be easily accessible while I was studying. Since I rearranged the room this year, that's less convenient--the room is basically situated now to maximize sloth, with all the studying done lying or sitting on the bed, and the desk as more or less a junk repository--so I started just setting my texts on the floor by my bed. Then, this semester, I had to buy such a crazy amount of books that there wasn't room for them by the desk, yet it was also clear that the "toss it on the floor" method of organization was neither asthetically pleasing, nor did it facilitate easy movement through the room. Solution: put them on the top shelf of my little three-shelf bookcase from Bed Bath & Beyond. Problem: Bookcase is full of other books and, on the top shelf, CDs. Solution: Take every single book and CDs off the shelves and reorganize them topically.

This was a good thing to do for more than just the "Oh-my-God-I-have-class-in-five-minutes-where-the-hell-is-that-book" reason. Because, until this afternoon, I had no organizational schema, it frequently took me a long time to find, say, my Rilke books, and as I start to develop my own Religious Studies library, I really should have all the books about, like, liberation theology grouped together.

As I pulled books out of the bookcase, off the shelf above my desk, out from under my night table and bed, I realized that nearly all my books fall into a few general categories:

1. School books. Duh.

2. Religious Studies books. I have three Bibles, a Historical/Critical treatment of the Hebrew Bible, some general Christian Inspiration books (The Purpose Driven Life, stuff like that), and several books each on liberation theology and mysticism.

3. Poetry. Mostly Rilke; he's the only poet with whose work I would say I'm well-acquainted, although I haven't actually read that much of it. I'd like to become more poetically literate this year, so that when someone mentions Robert Browning or John Donne or something, I can contribute intelligently to the conversation. Kind of funny story about that: I came across Donne somewhere and liked what I read, so I went to Powell's to see if I could get a cheap edition of his work, The Best of John Donne or something. As I was browsing in the aisles, I read through a couple of his poems. Then, when I went to buy it, the guy at the check-out was the cute British guy, and he was all, "Oh, I love John Donne. I studied him in high school, in England. Do you remember that poem where he's talking to the sun as it's rising?" And as it happened, that poem was one of the few I had just skimmed, so I was all, "Ah yes, 'Busie old foole, unruly Sunne, / Why dost thou thus, / Through windowes, and through curtains call on us?'"

But I digress.

4. Latin American literature. The major subdivisions here are books in English, books in Spanish, and old text books from last year about literary analysis. The two most represented authors are Gabriel García Márquez (in English), and Mario Benedetti (in Spanish). I have all of Isabel Allende's novels in English, but not here at school. I also have a few Chile guidebooks and grammatical reference books (the 501 verb book, that kind of thing).

5. Slavic literature. Subdivisions: Russian and Czech, both in translation. I have a couple anthologies of Soviet women's writing that I bought for my Russian class last year and kept because I love them; Anna Karenina, although I've never read it; and a collection of Chekov stories and plays. My collection of Czech books is more complete: I have several of Milan Kundera's novels, two of Ivan Klíma's, one of Capek's, and one of Svorekecky's. I also have a biography of Václav Havel and Letters to Olga, the collection of letters he wrote to his wife while he was in jail. These books now live where my school books used to: on the shelf above my desk.

6. Miscellaneous. Everything else, basically. Mostly American authors, and not all "high art" either: this would be where my Baby-Sitter's Club collection resides. (When I say "collection," don't get the wrong idea: I don't have all 130-odd books here at school; in fact, I've never even owned all of them. I just have about 15 or so that I've found at thrift shops in the area.) I also have all the Onion books, Augusten Borrough's two books, Grapes of Wrath, some random mystery novels, and other stuff.

Re-organizing (or really, organizing for the first time) my book collection naturally led me to wonder how and why I've accumulated all the books I have, and why I've kept all of them. Frankly, I haven't read the majority of books in my room, yet I would never even entertain the thought of getting rid of them. I've written about this before, but I love to have all my favorite authors right near me when I'm working; even though I haven't read all their works, I feel better to be surrounded by their collective genius, as though they're cheering me on as I bust out a paper. Plus, what if I were suddenly, inexplicably, overcome with the desire to read a biography of Janis Joplin RIGHT NOW? I'd better keep Scars of Sweet Paradise: The Life and Times of Janis Joplin nearby, just in case.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Mysticism 101: Rumi Sez...

This poem came up in conversation tonight. Since I first heard of it while taking the Mysticism class at the U of O over the summer, it's been a jumping-off point and point of meditation in my own spiritual/religious beliefs and practices. The translation is by Coleman Barks in The Essential Rumi. Here is "Love Dogs," by the medieval Sufi poet Jalaluddin Rumi:

One night a man was crying,
Allah! Allah!
His lips grew sweet with the praising,
until a cynic said,
"So! I have heard you
calling out, but have you ever
gotten any response?"

The man had no answer to that.
He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.

He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls
in a thick, green foliage.
"Why did you stop praising?"
"Because I've never heard anything back."
"This longing
You express is the return message."

The grief you cry out from
draws you into union.

Your pure sadness
that wants help
is the secret cup.

Listen for the moan of a dog for its master.
That whining is the connection.

There are love dogs
no one knows the names of.

Give your life
to be one of them.

This is in danger of devolving into sap, but I thought of these song lyrics during the same conversation: "I'll Be Your Mirror" by the Velvet Underground:

I'll be your mirror
Reflect what you are, in case you don't know
I'll be the wind, the rain and the sunset
The light on your door to show that you're home

When you think the night has seen your mind
That inside you're twisted and unkind
Let me stand to show that you are blind
Please put down your hands
'Cause I see you

I find it hard to believe you don't know
The beauty that you are
But if you don't let me be your eyes
A hand in your darkness, so you won't be afraid

When you think the night has seen your mind
That inside you're twisted and unkind
Let me stand to show that you are blind
Please put down your hands
'Cause I see you

I'll be your mirror.

I could also post a whole bunch of Rilke, but I'll save that for later.

Monday, January 24, 2005

All about my lip

One day when I was in the seventh-grade, I woke up with a sore bottom lip. Throughout the day--and I remember Adam D. commented on it during Pre-Algebra--the bottom left side of my lip swelled and swelled until it was pretty lopsided and noticeable. Then, within a week or so, it scabbed over, I picked the scab off (gross, I know), and my lip was back to normal. The only remnant of that strange incident is a small, faint scar underneath my lip. I never quite figured out what caused it to start swelling in the first place, but I wrote it off as a spider bite....although now that I think of it, the idea that a spider powerful enough to induce that kind of swelling was sitting on my mouth while I was sleeping is gross enough to make me want to sleep with a surgical mask on for the rest of my life.

Why am I telling this story? Today, after my last class ended at 4:30, I went to the library to get some reading done. I settled into an armchair in a study room, and by the time I had finished fifteen pages or so, I was exhausted and decided to close my eyes. I woke up fifteen minutes later in fairly intense pain: while I slept, I was biting down hard and chewing on the left side of my bottom lip. I went to the bathroom to check out the damage in the mirror, and not only was that part of my lip all swollen, but I could still see the indentation left by my two front teeth. I honestly believe that I would have bitten through--or at least split--my lip, if I hadn't woken up.

So. If you've never seen the scar under my lip before, ask me and I'll show it to you; it's kind of cool-looking. And if you see me chewing or biting on my bottom lip, please, tell me to knock it the hell off.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Historical inaccuracies in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

This may come as a shock, but the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, based on the Biblical ancestral narrative found in Genesis 37-50, contains many historical anachronisms and inaccuracies. For instance, we know from archaelogical evidence that Pharoah actually preferred a zoot suit to the sparkly Elvis costume he wears in the musical, and it is historically unlikely that the famine in Canaan would have caused Joseph's eleven brothers to doff berets and musically complain about the lack of joie de vivre.

When I listed to Joseph this afternoon, though, I caught two other Biblical anachronisms which proved to me that I learned something in my Old Testament class last semester. To wit:

1. In the song "Joseph's Dreams," in which Joseph tells his eleven older brothers about his dreams that he will surpass them in greatness, the brothers sing, "The dreams are more than crystal clear /
The writing's on the wall / Means that Joseph some day soon / Will rise above us all."
Even if the brothers did historically sing...in meter...in rhyme...in English, they wouldn't have said "the writing's on the wall," because that didn't become a phrase until after the composition of the Book of Daniel, hundreds of years later. "The writing's on the wall" has its origins in the Babylonian courtly tales that make up the first half of Daniel (the second half is comprised of apocalyptic visions). According the story in Daniel 5, King Belshazzar is giving a great feast, drinking wine from golden goblets that had been looted from the temple in Jerusalem (Dan. 5:3), when "Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace. The king watched the hand as it wrote. His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his knees knocked together and his legs gave way" (Dan. 5:5-6 NIV). The king calls in all his astrologers and wise men, and offers riches and power to whoever can read the writing on the wall (Dan. 5:7). Of course, no one can read it, until finally Daniel, a young Hebrew man, is called in. He rejects the reward and proclaims woe to Belshazzar, who has disregarded the God of Israel in favor of pagan idols: "Therefore he sent the hand that wrote the inscription. This is the inscription that was written: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN. This is what these words mean: Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians" (Dan. 5:24-28 NIV).

2. In the song "Close Every Door", which according to Ryan was based on Chopin's fourth ballade, after being imprisoned, Joseph sings "Close every door to me / Keep those I love from me / Children of Israel / Are never alone." In a literal sense, Joseph was a child of Israel, because his father Jacob was also known as Israel. But in the Biblical storyline, the first time the phrase "Children of Israel" is used to address the Israelite people isn't until Moses goes up to Pharoah, all "Let my people GOOOOOOOOO!" That happens in the Book of Exodus, after the Israelites have been enslaved in Egypt for hundreds of years. That doesn't happen until after Joseph is released from jail, enters the service of the Pharoah (different Pharaoh, obviously, although the lack of specific names makes Hebrew Bible scholars suspicious about the historical reliability of these stories), predicts the famine, and runs into his brothers, who have migrated down to Egypt from Canaan. Genesis 50 basically ends with Jacob's twelve sons, the ancestors of the twelve tribes of Israel (and again, scholars doubt there were exactly twelve, much less the specific twelve named) in Egypt, and Exodus, the next book, begins with them all enslaved. In the words of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, "Poor, poor Joseph, sold to be a slave / Situation's grave, hey, sold to be a slave." Yes, situation's grave, indeed. Pretty fucking grave, once you've been sold to be a slave.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Know what? You can pry Entertainment Weekly from my cold, dead fingers

Last night, as is our wont, a bunch of us watched The Amazing Race in the main lounge of the dorm. During a commercial break near the beginning of the episode, a girl I know only vaguely walked in. She asked what we were watching, and when we replied, she snorted in derision, made the "ooooo-kay" sound, and left. The episode ended and I left and talked with Chris and Ryan for awhile. Around 11:20, we returned to the lounge and watched the end of The Daily Show. At 11:30, Comedy Central re-ran Monday's Daily Show, which neither Amy nor I had seen, so we stayed to watch it. At that point, the same girl walked back into the lounge to fill her water bottle again. "You're still parked in front of the TV?" she demanded. With another raising of the eyebrows, she left.

You know what? This has to stop. Yes, it is true: I enjoy reading Entertainment Weekly and watching TV--including, reality TV--and seeing movies and reading film reviews and mocking US Weekly and In Touch and being culturally literate. I check Television Without Pity and FameTracker near-daily. None of that makes me an idiot, and I don't appreciate being treated as though I were one.

Because guess what, People Who Act Superior Because They Don't Watch TV Or Know Who Paris Hilton Is: as DeAnn once wrote, TV is just as mindless as you make it. It is possible to think critically while watching TV, or to not. There is so much variety to what's on TV, it's impossible to generalize about it. Some TV is stupid. Some TV is breathtaking, some is education, some is heartbreaking, some is enlightening. Further, it is possible to enjoy discussing the exploits of, I don't know, Lindsay Lohan without becoming obsessed with celebrity culture. People who consume the oft-looked-down-upon forms of mass media do not always do so in a vapid way. Sometimes, sure. Sometimes people take it too far, or make it their life. But you know, I've met with other Portland TWoPpers on several occasions, and they're to the one bright, literate, and interesting people who are interested in what goes on in the world around them.

So I'm not going to apologize for enjoying pop culture. And next Tuesday, you'd better believe I'll be in the lounge again, watching The Amazing Race. I encourage you do join me, but if you choose not to, then for God's sake don't ridicule me.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Important things I forgot to bring back to college after a month of vacation

1. Soap
2. Loofah
3. Washcloths
4. Scarf*
5. Umbrella
6. Ethernet cable
7. Birth control pills**

Genius, Jessica. Genius.

*Not the one I knitted; that would have been really bad. The one I forgot at home was red, and I wore it a fair amount of time. I might ask my parents to send it up.

**This sounds like the most serious item to forget, but it's not actually a huge deal. Like many women, I don't take birth control pills to, you know, control birth, just to regulate my hormones. I had a four-month supply and I only forgot one packet, so I'll be good for awhile, and by the time I run out of those I should have received the next shipment. (Maybe I should have titled my post "Everything you never wanted to know about my endocrine system!")

I unpacked today and straightened up. My side of the room is probably the cleanest it'll be all semester, and the sad part is that it isn't even all that clean. Oh, and classes start tomorrow--wish me luck!

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Portrait of My Father as a Young Man

While Dad was cleaning out the attic a few months ago, he found the journal he kept when he traveled to Czechoslovakia with his mom and aunt in 1980. For one month, they criss-crossed the country, or at least the Czech regions of what was then Czechoslovakia, seeing the sights and staying with our relatives, especially the Princs, Markvats, and Jobáneks. As he drove me back up to Portland, I read through it, through the 48 front-to-back pages of blue ball point writing in a hand that only vaguely resembles my dad's current writing. "You should read it," he told me a few days ago. "It'll give you a sense of what I was like when I was 26."

It did. It was a great journal, one that only my dad could have written. There were pages filled with all the different bird calls he heard while walking in a Bohemian wood, notes about the different breeds of dogs that he saw, lists of the little villages they visited and the relatives they met, his attempts to refuse the pívo (beer) and liquor they pushed on him and, failing that, his creative methods of disposing of it (when they weren't looking, he poured some plum brandy down the toilet). Most interesting--and most touching-- to me where his feelings about learning Czech and watching his mom experience the village of her own mother. "Ma said it really gave her a thrill," he wrote, "to see where Bah went to school." Bah's short for Babicka, Czech for "grandmother," his mother's mother. I felt a tug when I read that part--his mother, my own Bah, died two before I was born, when my dad was just 29.

It was a little strange to read this journal from 24 years ago, knowing that so many of the relatives that Dad, my Bah, and Aunt Lillian met have since died. There's one part I love: when Dad had just arrived in the airport, he saw two vaguely-familiar people staring at him and whispering. Hesitantly, he said to them, "Jobánek?" and they grabbed him and shook his hand heartily. Later, Zdenka told Dad that when she and her husband, Josef, first saw Dad, Josef said to her, "He looks like a Jobánek!" Thinking of that in the car, I asked Dad how old Josef and Zdenka were.

"Oh, probably late-forties, mid-fifties," he replied.

"Oh! So they might still be around, when we go back to the Czech Republic," I said.

"Well...no. Zdenka died after we got back to the US. They sent us her black-lined obituary that they had cut out of the newspaper. Four or five years after we got back."

My favorite part of the journal was the account of his first night in Dolní Loucky, the village in Moravia where the Jobáneks lived. Dad wrote, "Regrettably, our entertainment for the evening was planned as a result of the infamous letter I wrote a couple weeks before leaving the US, in which I joked that I might meet a Czechoslovakian girl while I was there." The humor didn't translate so well, apparently, and to my dad's mortification, they escorted him to a village dance for teen-agers. "There were some good-looking girls there," he wrote, "but they were all probably at least ten years younger than me." Dad, who is very shy, spent the evening talking with Josef, who kept asking him why he wasn't dancing.

There were constant reminders of the Soviet presence as they traveled, from long lines in the butcher's shop, to shortages, to the propaganda on the radio that told the Czechs it cost five hundred dollars to mail a letter from the US to Canada. "It actually just costs fifteen cents," Lillian corrected one of our relatives. "Oh, I thought that that was probably false," he replied. "You can't trust everything they say on the radio." One relative, the patriarch of the Princ (pronounced "prints") family, told Dad his memories of the Soviet invasion of 1968, how as he walked to work through a wheat field, he ran across several small tanks that kept their guns trained on him. As they were traveling through the countryside, Dad mentioned a Czech legend that giant knights slept under the rolling hills. "When the Czech people are in danger, the knights will awaken and save the nation from its enemies," he wrote. "As I looked at the hills I kept thinking that it seemed about time for the knights to wake up."

It was a great journal, and I feel as though now I have a much greater idea of what my dad was like when he was a young man. I thank him for keeping the journal in 1980, and I thank him again for letting me read it in 2004.

Friday, January 14, 2005

The scarf, she is finished

With God as my witness, my neck will never go cold again!!

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

When I'm not busy reading Ann M. Martin...

Okay, this is fun. I got this book meme from DeAnn, who got it from Lynn, who got it from White Pebble. Instructions: Copy this list of ten authors, removing those not in your home library and replacing each with an author who is. The authors I added are in bold. It's pretty interesting to trace the meme back and see which authors I took off DeAnn's list, which ones she removed from Lynn's, etc.

By the way, Ann M. Martin is the author of the Baby-Sitters Club series (although the last 75 books, at least, were written mostly by ghostwriters).

1. Ernest Hemingway
2. Gabriel García Márquez
3. Willa Cather
4. John Steinbeck
5. Milan Kundera
6. J.D. Salinger
7. F. Scott Fitzgerald
8. Amy Tan
9. Elaine Pagels
10. William Shakespeare

I am so ready for break to be over. Expect a longer post within twenty-four hours. Until then, check out this picture I found on Clay's College Facebook profile. Don't we all look sickeningly happy and well-scrubbed and wholesome? It seriously looks like a Jordache ad or something. From left to right: Clay, Taka, Amanda, Laurel, Yuri, Arezu, Chris, yours truly, and Alexis. Holy crap, my hair was long!

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Learning is fun. So is knitting.

I had forgotten how amazing and shocking it is to learn something completely new. Not learning about something, or learning new facts about something already known--we all do that all the time, and it's fun, but it's not, you know, earthshaking. To learn something completely new--learning to read, for instance, or learning to speak a language, or learning to drive, not that I've had any experience with that (I have yet again failed in my resolution to get my learner's permit over break)--that's like raising your consciousness to a new level. A paradigm shift. Spiralling upwards. Blah blah blah corporate buzzwords.

Last night, I learned how to knit.

Ever since, I've been a knitting fool. I could barely tear needles from my clawed fingers so that I could type out this post. I started a scarf yesterday, after Sarah taught Becca and me as we waited for Kinsey in the movie-theater lobby. I cast on with 15 stitches, but due to my amazing ability to add stitches, I was soon up to 27--in otherwords, I almost doubled the width of the scarf. Yeah, I don't know how the hell that happened. I have about two feet so far, the last fifteen inches or so of which are pretty good.

I'm still just amazed that I'm actually making an item of clothing with my own two hands. I can't wait until I finish this scarf. You better believe I'll be wearing it, like, twenty-four hours a day.

Also: Happy 20th birthday, Becca!!

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

I'm not even hanging out at the high school

I realized something this afternoon: I have totally become one of those lame people who hang out at their old schools.

This time, I had an excuse, sort of: I wanted to see how the girl I tutored in Spanish over the summer was doing. So I walked over to Roosevelt, but there was a staff meeting going on in the Spanish teacher's room. So...I wandered. Auditions for the spring musical must have been going on, because the Commons area leading into the hall outside the drama teacher's room was glutted with middle-schoolers (most of them about four and a half feet tall and looking as though they had lost a fight with Hot Topic), singing and acting very dramatically. Roosevelt was a pretty artsy-fartsy school (as was South), so the spring musical was always a huge draw.

As it turned out, I did run one of the kids I tutored. Her mom had asked that I give them a call when I got back into town for winter break, in case the kids needed Spanish lessons or if the parents wanted to take English lessons or something (the family was Korean). I totally caught the girl off-guard; she was running around with her friends, and I think I embarrased her. I find that, whenever I've embarrased a middle-schooler, the day has been a success. She scampered off, and I sort of meandered around until I felt vaguely ridiculous and I left.

You know, even in high school, I was always going over to Roosevelt. I always had good relationships with my teachers, and I needed 150 community service hours for the International Baccalaureate diploma, so I found myself volunteering there after school several days a week, either leading this math group or tutoring Spanish students. Now, every break, I go over and say hi to my old teachers and let them know how I'm doing. It's funny: you couldn't pay me to go back to middle school, but I find myself drifting over there every time I come back to Eugene. Strange!

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Boys have cooties!

The local Barnes & Noble really, really needs to install computers customers can use to look up books themselves. Because, here's the thing: I really, really did not want to ask a store employee to help me find the book To the Last Man I Slept With and All the Jerks Just Like Him.

I tried to find the book (the first by Gwendolyn Zepeda, one of my favorite bloggers and a former Television Without Pity recapper) by myself. I looked on the New Fiction tables. I looked in the Literature & Fiction section. I looked in the Women's Studies section. I looked in the Cultural Studies section. Nothing. I realized I had to ask an employee, but I needed to carefully plan my approach. See, a lot of the employees know me by name, and they know my father and family. I spent a good twenty minutes milling around the Customer Service center, waiting for juuuuuuust the right employee. I couldn't ask a man of any age, especially the cute dark-haired guy who looks like Raj Bhakta from The Apprentice. I couldn't ask an older woman, particularly the one who always asks me about school and talks with me about Kundera and philosophy and travel. I decided my best bet was a young, hippish, college or graduate school-aged woman, preferably recently-hired so that she wouldn't recognize me. Problem was, such employees were rare 'round the Service desk, necessitating the secret agent hiding-out-behind-the-calendar-display-with-coffee-gripped-tightly exercises.

All that work, and they didn't even have the book in stock! But, seriously, if you were in my position, would you want to ask for that book? Actually, you're probably not quite so much of a fourth-grader as I am, and you might be laughing at me right now. In which case...carry on, I suppose.