Saturday, November 1, 2008

My ideal state

Sitting outside Rue de la Course on a Saturday morning drinking iced coffee, eating pain au chocolat, and smoking a cigarette; wrapped in a sweatercoat and wearing a beret against the chill of the morning and the icedness of the coffee but quickly warming up in the Louisiana sun, the same sun that shines on the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea and makes them tropical; having spoken probably 20 words all morning and feeling wonderfully solitary as I read the New Yorker; listening to the Spanglish chatter of some 30-something artists with a little kid ("Isa! Ven aca!") at the next table; watching people hurrying along Magazine Street amidst the ruins of last night to start a new day and a new month and a new season, carrying newspapers and groceries and flowers to put on graves for All Saints Day and Día de los muertos.

<3 New Orleans.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Emo regression

August 2007: I am a happy twee kid, smiling along to Belle and Sebastian and Architecture in Helsinki on my orange iPod Shuffle as I bake cookies and get excited about coming back to school and wrapping myself up in books.
October 2007: Radiohead and Wir sind Helden make me wonder why I'm applying to consulting jobs.
March 2008: Bookworms Joanna Newsom and Rainer Maria power me through the last phase of my thesis on James Joyce and Julio Cortázar (side note: this thesis was actually quite twee, as it asserted that playing childhood games means nothing is ever really lost and colonial atrocities don't matter. Really?)
April 2008: The happiness of my last few months at college becomes tinged with the ache of inevitable loss at graduation. As a memento to all things Cambridge, I become increasingly attracted to The Magnetic Fields.
June 2008: My brief return to the Midwest also prompts a return to Sufjan Stevens and a renewed interest in Bon Iver.
July 2008: I fill the sadness of TFA Institute and the empty plasticity of Phoenix with The Shins, Ravens & Chimes, and Death Cab for Cutie. Their words are like sad monsoon rain on the desert of my heart...
August 2008: Back in New Orleans, I listen to The Weakerthans as I prepare for a year of teaching.
September 2008: Amidst evacuations and floods, my playlists are already almost exclusively filled with Bright Eyes and the Postal Service, when finally, on September 21, 2008, I arrive at the ultimate emo rediscovery: Yellowcard. I cover my heart with my hands as I think about listening to "Ocean Avenue" on my very last day of high school. I have come full circle.

Things I miss in Cambridge

1. Incredible New England autumn. October is almost here, and it's my very favorite month of the year
[incidental list with short explanations—my ranking of months:
October—gorgeous trees, crisp air, clear blue sky, Halloween, campfires, beginnings of coziness all around. First snow, sometimes.
May—springtime, end of school.
September—transition into October! But this September has been subpar, to say the least.
January—my birthday month, and I really do love snow. A good time to get trashed in order not to feel the cold. The setting of Inter(c/s)ession, during which, depending on how you spell it, Harvard students get a break between semesters or they have someone intercede on their behalf. Either way, you get to go skiing in Vermont. Also a month during which we didn't have to produce the Arts section of The Crimson but did get to have that great event where we drank champagne and watched the presses run for the last time, which usually fell on my birthday, not that any of that matters now.
December—Christmas (birthday of both Christ and Kristina), New Year's, and a very doable 3 weeks of school (sans exams) between Thanksgiving and Winter Break. Also Starbucks has Gingerbread Lattes, and Aliza and I construct amazing gingerbread houses to enter into competition.
June—you know, summer etc.
July—see above.
April—often cold, rainy, and packed with papers.
November—mostly a pretty bad month, and I don't even like turkey that much (although I do love Turkey).
August—as Aliza always says, Sunday of the year.
February—new classes start, which is always fun, and February gets a bit of a pass for a) being short and b) being the only month of variable length. But winter's getting a little old by now.
March—probably the worst month in terms of weather in Boston. It's still cold, but the snow turns to rain so that you have to wear galoshes everywhere. I wore my galoshes so much that I got a hole in them. Then again, I got them from Marc Jacobs for $35, so perhaps all was not lost. But March redeemed itself a tiny bit this year by being the month that I turned my thesis in and went to Istanbul with the 15 best people in the world.]
2. Jeankapor.
3. Chocolate chip walnut cookies from Finale.
4. Not having to wake up at 4 a.m. ever except for flights (and often going to sleep at 4 a.m. or later), whereas starting tomorrow I have to do it on a regular basis. Howhowhowhowhow can this be happening?!

Thursday, September 4, 2008


(or, in TFA talk, continually increasing effectiveness)

I just got my recommendations for this month (or however often they put them out), and, of the 8, there's exactly one that I might potentially read or even purchase: Graham Greene's Journey Without Maps. It's true that the reading list also includes Branded Entertainment: Product Placement and Brand Strategy in the Entertainment Business. But at least we're getting somewhere.

Still not back in New Orleans, so I thought I'd remind you (and myself) of some things I had forgotten about Iowa:

1) The sure way to know that you're almost here is to see a bunch of fireworks stores lined up along the highway. Selling fireworks is illegal in Iowa, but it's not in most of the neighboring states (or, at least, in Missouri), so you find these little border towns like St. Francisville where the only industry seems to be fireworks stores. Not sure how the town's namesake would feel about this.

2) Our state motto (as shown on the welcome sign as you cross the Des Moines River, a more conventional way to know you're almost here) is "Fields of Opportunity." Now that I think of it, I remember voting on this in elementary school, but I never actually thought they would use it for anything because it seemed so silly. Then again, Louisiana's motto (according to the new license plates) is "Sportsman's Paradise," so maybe it's a rule that they have to be sort of bad and not really represent what's actually good about the state. But they also have a sign saying "Bienvenue a Lousiane" as you cross the border, which makes up for it.

3) The book Gilead is set here and is one of the best examples of non-terrible regionalism I've ever read. I took like a year to get through it, since it moves really slowly, but it's great for days when you're feeling sort of quiet and removed. It also reminds us, on two occasions, that Ulysses S. Grant once referred to Iowa as "the shining star of radicalism," which I really like.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

And the moment will come / When composure returns

As I write this, I'm at home--not home in my house in New Orleans, but home home in Iowa. When I first heard about the evacuation I had planned to leave really early Saturday morning and just go up to Memphis or the Delta, but given how long my school's supposed to be closed this little piggy drove all the way home. I also left Friday night with hopes of avoiding the traffic, but it still took hours to get out of Metairie and Kenner. Almost all the way up through St. Louis, most of the cars on 55 had Louisiana plates. People aren't taking chances. They are out of there.

Friday at school was a surreal day. A lot of the kids had already left, so we didn't teach academic content--in one class, my juniors, only 6 students out of 32 were there. People seemed to alternate between standard last-day-before-break activities and more philosophical speculation about the hurricane and what was going to happen. I remember at one point I was chatting with a couple of seniors at my desk while in the background one student was teaching another how to play a Lifehouse song on his guitar; in the meantime, another group was questioning one of my best students, who I suppose is quite religious, about how to reconcile the hurricane with belief in God. "If God wants to, He can always stop the hurricane," I heard him say. I made a mental note that we should read something about the problem of evil in class, assuming we're all back at that school soon. I know Wiesel's Night was on the honors reading list for the parish.

At the end of the day they made all the students who were still there go back to their homerooms and we had to hand their transcripts out in case they have to enroll in school in another district. Apparently the lack of records was a big issue after Katrina, but it still seemed pretty extreme. And then I went home, packed up what I could, and was off to Memphis, where I stayed with a friend of Aliza's mother for the night.

Despite the circumstances, the trip back was a nice break, and I always learn new things about the country when I'm driving. I'm one of the most non-overtly patriotic people I know--the National Anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance, and especially the song "Proud to be an American" don't really do it for me--but one thing that always makes me feel connected to the U.S. is driving long distances across it and seeing all the different kinds of land and people that exist in it.

This drive, too, made me realize how much I'm a part of the Midwest. I'm not sure if you've experienced this sensation, but somewhere around the Missouri-Arkansas border the geography just started to look normal. As I made my way on US-61 across Hannibal, the home of Mark Twain and of course Tom and Huck, I flipped through radio stations as a break from my iPod--country, Christian rock, and then, all of a sudden, a monotonous voice so familiar and unremarkable I skipped over it at first before realizing what it was and going back. "We thought the Reformation was a huge step forward for individual freedom," the voice said, stressing "forward" lingering over the m in "freedom." "But it just freed us to see how silly we look when we're having fun."

It was A Prairie Home Companion, the soundtrack of every Saturday afternoon in my house since I was 8. And just like that I was back in my other life, pre-hurricane, pre-teaching, pre-college even. As Garrison Keillor wrapped up his ruminations on how the differences between Catholics and Protestants were the root of the differences between Hispanic (and, probably, Francophone) America and Scandinavian America which were the root of the differences between the Southwest (and, probably, Louisiana) and the Midwest which were the root of the differences between festivals and state fairs, he moved onto a more serious subject. "I don't even know if I believe in free will anymore. So many things that are good happen to us by accident and so many bad things are our choice. I used to think of faith as a building block, something you could use to achieve great feats. Now I think it's more like surrender, a little bit like the feeling you get as you ride the Ferris Wheel at the state fair and go up through the trees and come down again. I've never tried wild grape wine but I imagine it's like the feeling you'd get from that. Going up and coming down. And the best thing you can do is to maintain hope--hope and some sort of gratitude."

It turned out that I shouldn't have taken I-61 through Hannibal at all--I had made a wrong turn 100 miles before, somewhere around Saint Louis. But soon enough, I was on roads I had driven on a hundred times, passing the University buildings and Czech village and downtown. And with hardly enough time to catch my breath and realize it, I was home.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

No Love's as Random... my love (for music).

My first-(and-a-halfth) week-of-teaching playlist:

The Smiths—Cemetry Gates
Agent Orange—Don't Kiss Me Goodbye
Wisin y Yandel—El Teléfono
The Blow—Parentheses
Magnetic Fields—California Girls
Bob Dylan—Visions of Johanna
Fleet Foxes—White Winter Hymnal
Spiritualized—Soul on Fire
Sia—Breathe Me (featured on the last episode of my favorite show ever)
Miley Cyrus—7 Things I Hate About You (if you name it, I'll believe it)
Depeche Mode—Personal Jesus
The Weakerthans—Confessions of a Futon-Revolutionist
Wilco—I Can't Stand It

If you ever need to write a unit test on Beowulf, I recommend songza-ing the hell out of all of the above.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Items I must have as soon as I get paid (on 9/15)

Even though I've already been teaching a whole week (and doing professional development before then), the school district, in its wisdom, has decided t0 make me wait until September 15th to get paid. Of course I've fetishized that moment to the point that it's almost unrecognizable. On that glorious day, the following things will be mine. This is an ongoing list.

1. All Six Feet Under DVDs
2. Curtains

Also, since everyone else is making a food blog and eating is more or less my favorite thing in the world, I would recommend these blueberry pancakes as a Sunday morning breakfast. Last week I made a few extra (well, a lot extra before Sophie and Alexis ate some) so that I could heat some up Monday morning when I got up at 5 to make it a little less painful. Dessert makes my life, but I'm actually okay with the fact that these are a little less sweet—it really brings out the flavor of fresh blueberries and goes well with maple syrup. If that's not your thing, you could add a teaspoon more of sugar.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

(ama)zoned out

Another Internet entity that has failed me: Here are the book recommendations I got 3 days ago: Recommended for You has new recommendations for you based on items you purchased or told us you own.

Sacraments: Celebrating + Living + Believing The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (New Directions Paperbook) The Philosophy of History Sensation Seeking And Risky Behavior
Tales of Chekhov The Country of the Pointed Firs The Sea (Man Booker Prize) Calculus Gems (Spectrum)

- See More Recommendations

5 years of loyal customerhood and what I get is really Calculus Gems? Unless this means that I have acquired all possible knowledge in the universe and these 8 books represent all I have left to learn, I'm not happy.

Why I Made This Blog

So today's word of the day is "supernumerary," which I know for a fact has been the word of the day during a time in my memory. And it's not that I've been subscribed to for too long--it's only been a year. Given the number of words in English, I'm pretty disenchanted with the people. They didn't even offer the creepy Opus Dei-related definition of people who aren't quite committed enough to take vows of celibacy but are just fine wearing spiky chains around their thighs in secret; instead it was just "Exceeding the stated, standard, or prescribed number.", why have you forsaken me? There were months when you were there for me every day, throwing out gems like temerarious, lissom, and magniloquent that I could program Word to type in rotation into a document called "Thesis–really" while I tried to figure out if it was more efficient to take the extra time to fit four Mint Milanos in my mouth at once or if I should just do three, so as not to break my pace or anything. But now you've failed. And I thought the world should know, so I made this blog.

Now that it's fulfilled its purpose, I suppose I could just abandon it, leaving it forever to float in the wastelands of the Internet, always searching, never found, always longing, never fulfilled. Alternately, I could craft many ingenious entries of temerarious lissom magniloquent temerarious lissom magniloquent etc.

But I figure I'll just write in it, at least for a bit. I have many things to say.