Sunday, June 29, 2014

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Vic Chesnutt, "Panic Pure"

My earliest memory
Is of holding up a sparkler
High up to the darkest sky
Some 4th of July spectacular

I shook it with an urgency
I'll never ever be able to repeat

At times I might could be accused
Of being painfully nostalgic

But as of late I'm looking forward to the future
Though I've never been much of a planner
Throwing caution into the fan
Catch as catch as those catchers can

And so all you observers in your scrutiny
Don't count my scars like tree rings
My jigsaw disposition, its piecemeal properties
Are either smoked or honey cured

By the panic pure
Yeah, yeah, by the panic pure

Monday, June 23, 2014

poem of the day from one of my many dead literary satirical boyfriends

How clear, how lovely bright,
How beautiful to sight
  Those beams of morning play;
How heaven laughs out with glee
Where, like a bird set free,
Up from the eastern sea
  Soars the delightful day.

To-day I shall be strong,
No more shall yield to wrong,
  Shall squander life no more;
Days lost, I know not how,
I shall retrieve them now;
Now I shall keep the vow
  I never kept before.

Ensanguining the skies
How heavily it dies
  Into the west away;
Past touch and sight and sound
Not further to be found,
How hopeless under ground
  Falls the remorseful day.

- A.E. Housman

Thursday, June 19, 2014


I sometimes teach classes on writing, during which I tell my students every single thing I know about the craft and habit. This takes approximately 45 minutes. I begin with my core belief—and the foundation of almost all wisdom traditions—that there is nothing you can buy, achieve, own, or rent that can fill up that hunger inside for a sense of fulfillment and wonder. But the good news is that creative expression, whether that means writing, dancing, bird-watching, or cooking, can give a person almost everything that he or she has been searching for: enlivenment, peace, meaning, and the incalculable wealth of time spent quietly in beauty.

Then I bring up the bad news: You have to make time to do this.

This means you have to grasp that your manic forms of connectivity—cell phone, email, text, Twitter—steal most chances of lasting connection or amazement. That multitasking can argue a wasted life.

- Anne Lamott


Kathryn's advance thanks for multiple messages of support sat very sadly above the short exchange.

'Why?' asked Strike heavily.

'Why what?' said Robin, looking up at him.

'Why do people do this?'

'Blog, you mean? I don't know....didn't someone once say the unexamined life isn't worth living?'

'Yeah, Plato,' said Strike, 'but this isn't examining a life, it's exhibiting it.'

- J.K. Rowling, The Silkworm

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

If I live too long I'm afraid I'll die

Wye Oak with Jonathan Meiburg - Strangers (The Kinks cover)

'From A Reader's Book of Days'

When was Frankenstein made? (The story, that is, not the monster.) The moment of Mary Shelley's creation has been nearly as enshrouded in legend as the "dreary night of November" when Victor Frankenstein gave the reanimating jolt to his monster. It was, as the story goes, a wet and dreary June in Switzerland when Lord Byron suggested to his guests—Dr. Polidori, who had just sprained his ankle, and the scandalously not-yet-married couple, Percy Shelley and Mary Godwin—that they each write a ghost story. As Mary Shelley recalled it later, after the men told their stories she had a vision in her bedroom of a scientist terrified by his own creation as it begins to stir with the spark of life. Terrified too by her vision, she rose to the sight of moonlight over the Alps, a detail that a Texas astronomer has, with methodical literal-mindedness, traced to a single possible hour for her inspiration, between two and three in the early morning of June 16.

- via

Saturday, June 14, 2014

'Middlemarch,' opening of ch XXVII

An eminent philosopher among my friends, who can dignify even your ugly furniture by lifting it into the serene light of science, has shown me this pregnant little fact. Your pier-glass or extensive surface of polished steel made to be rubbed by a housemaid, will be minutely and multitudinously scratched in all directions; but place now against it a lighted candle as a centre of illumination, and lo! the scratches will seem to arrange themselves in a fine series of concentric circles round that little sun. It is demonstrable that the scratches are going everywhere impartially and it is only your candle which produces the flattering illusion of a concentric arrangement, its light falling with an exclusive optical selection. These things are a parable. The scratches are events, and the candle is the egoism of any person now absent—of Miss Vincy, for example. Rosamond had a Providence of her own who had kindly made her more charming than other girls, and who seemed to have arranged Fred's illness and Mr. Wrench's mistake in order to bring her and Lydgate within effective proximity.

Edward Casaubon as self-portrait

I am happy to accept Casaubon as a compound of George Eliot’s self-knowledge, self-criticism, elements from other difficult temperaments with which she was acquainted, and material fresh from her own mint. The choice of the name Casaubon for her character is not commented on in her extant writings. Like her Mr Casaubon, the Elizabethan Isaac Casaubon was a theological and classical scholar; unlike his fictional namesake, Isaac published many scholarly works of exegesis and was what Middlemarch’s Mr Casaubon aspired in vain to be, namely an internationally acclaimed scholar (his contemporary Joseph Scaliger described him as “the most learned man alive”). A subtle and not completely unsympathetic irony is observable in George Eliot’s gift of the name to her troubled character.

- Rosemary Ashton

three more quotes from Woolf on Lewis

As well as his flights of fancy, his listeners also appreciated the way in which Carroll wove aspects of their own lives into his narratives. This characteristic of his can be spotted even in the story of Alice in Wonderland. He not only named some of the characters in the book after those who were present at the telling of the original story, but he also drew upon other aspects of the little Liddells' lives, turning them inside out and upside down in the process.

Alice's French book at the time was La Bagatelle. It contained a sequence of lessons titled 'The Rabbit,' 'The Fall' and 'The little girl who is always crying', while a later lesson is about 'the tea table -- take some bread and a little butter'. These lessons must have been dreary for Alice to recite, but it would have been very different when they had been imported into Wonderland and utterly transformed.

- The Mystery of Lewis Carroll, pp 116-117

(Capping a careful and fascinating analysis of his bank account, recorded in 'the thick ledger pages of Oxford Old Bank,' from 1856 to 1900) He began running into overdraft almost from the start. By the eighth transaction, his account was in the red, and he slid in and out of overdraft for ever after. At these times, a glance at the account gives the impression of a careless, emotional and headstrong man with little anxiety about debt and no interest in planning for the future. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that at certain periods of his life, Carroll's account could be picked out of the many others in the ledger simply by the amount of red ink it displayed. His carelessness must have been as noticeable to the bank clerks as his fussiness was to his friends. Perhaps, standing at their desks in the back room of the bank, they occasionally commented upon Revd Mr Dodgson's habits, as the red ink bottle came out for him once more.

- ditto pp. 275-276

His bank account, of course, reveals the financial framework behind his various publishing ventures. Carroll funded the publication of Alice in Wonderland from his income from lecturing at Christ Church, and the account shows that this income was all he had, other than dividends from a few shares. Spending all this money on publishing his little book was a daring thing to do when he had no plans to become -- and never did become -- a professional children's writer. In fact, some might think that it shows a certain recklessness.

- p. 268

(Other classic authors who subsidized their own early publications: the Bronte sisters, Anais Nin, William Blake, Poe, Woolf, Austen, Whitman, Thoreau....)

when Dodgson met Swinburne

Carroll would sometimes visit his artist friends in their studios and see them at work, but his diary is so laconic about them that his liberal-mindedness has often gone unremarked. In April 1865, for instance, he recorded a visit to Dante Gabriel Rossetti thus: 'We call on Rossetti. We found him at home, and his friend Swinburne also in the room, whom I had not met before. He showed us many beautiful pictures, two quite new, the bride going to met the bride-groom (from Solomon's Song), and Venus with a back-ground of roses.' The critic Hugues Lebailly has pointed out that one of the pictures Carroll admired during the visit was Rossetti's Venus Verticordia, the eroticism of which made it difficult for Rossetti to sell. Carroll does not tell us what he made of the scandalous Swinburne, but he did go out and buy a first edition of his notorious Poems and Ballads.

- Jenny Woolf, The Mystery of Lewis Carroll 

She hath the apple in her hand for thee....

Friday, June 13, 2014

I will never badmouth Wikipedia again in my whole entire life no matter how irresistibly strong the temptation



(The Jane Austen manuscript site! The new EED site! The Bronte online! OH INTERNET JE T'ADORE.)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Neil Gaiman on Amazon

If you could tell Jeff Bezos, the head of Amazon, one thing, what would you say to him?

I think it would be more complicated than just one thing. I think it would be reminding him that Amazon began life as a bookstore online. And then it became an anything store. And now it’s the biggest anything store in the world. And I don’t know if that’s true, but I assume that Amazon could stop selling books tomorrow and it’s bottom line probably wouldn’t hurt that much.
But I would point out that books are special, books are the way we talk to generations that have not turned up yet. The fact that we can actually, essentially communicate with the people in ancient Egypt, people in Rome and Greece, people in ancient Britain, people in New York in the 1920s who can communicate to us and change the way we think, and change the things that we believe.
I think that books are special. Books are sacred. And I think that when you are selling books, you have to remember that in all the profits and loss, in all of that, you are treading on sacred ground. Again, it’s complicated by the fact you’re dealing with giant multibillion-dollar book corporations.
When I was a young author, I loved how fast things were changing, and [now] I hate how fast things are changing. When I was a young journalist, I was a book reviewer, which meant I got all the different catalogs from all the different publishers in the U.K. and most of the publishers in the U.K. were little publishers who’d been publishing for 50 years, 80 years, 150 years, 200 years, and they were sometimes in the same building they’d always been. Sometimes the family that ran them was the family whose name was on the masthead.
Allen & Unwin, who were Tolkien’s publishers, the Unwin family was still around. And then by the end of the ’80s, all of these publishers had been eaten by other publishers and they were no longer. All of these little publishers that had their little building they published out of, and their catalog, every now and then had a hit.
So the nature of publishing itself changed. Now you’re watching capitalism in action, and it’s no fun.


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

excerpt from Paula Vogel's interview with Arthur Holmberg

AH: How I Learned to Drive dramatizes in a disturbing way how we receive great harm from the people who love us.

PV: I would reverse that. I would say that we can receive great love from the people who harm us.

AH: Why is it significant to reverse it?

PV: We are now living in a culture of victimization, and great harm can be inflicted by well-intentioned therapists, social workers, and talk show hosts who encourage people to dwell in their identity as victim. Without denying or forgetting the original pain, I wanted to write about the great gifts that can also be inside that box of abuse. My play dramatizes the gifts we receive from the people who hurt us.

AH: So what does Li'l Bit receive?

PV: She received the gift of how to survive.

AH: From her Uncle?

PV: Absolutely. I am going to teach you to drive like a man, he says. He becomes her mentor and shows her a way of thinking ahead ten steps down the road before anyone else to figure out what the other guy is going to do before he does it. That not only enables her to survive but actually enables her, I think, to reject him and destroy him.

AH: And she does destroy him.

PV: He gives her the gifts to do that. He gives her the training. He gives her the ego formation. You, he says, you've got a fire in the head. He gives her gifts in just about every scene. He teaches her the importance of herself as an individual and the ability to strategize to protect that. It's all there in the driving lessons. It's abuse simultaneously with a kind of affirmation and reassurance.

AH: In Drive, Li'l Bit looks at her painful memories, processes the experiences, and then moves on. Why is it important to forgive the harm?

PV: Many people stay rooted in anger against transgressions that occurred in childhood, and this rage will be directed to other people in their adult lives and toward themselves. Whether we call it forgiveness or understanding, there comes a moment when the past has to be processed, and we have to find some control. There are two forgivenesses in the play. One forgiveness for Peck, but the most crucial forgiveness would be Li'l Bit's forgiving Li'l Bit. Li'l Bit as an adult looking at and understanding her complicity . . .

AH: . . . her destructiveness. You once said that it was important to give the audience a catharsis.

PV: Catharsis purges the pity and the terror and enables the audience to transcend them. So you have her memories of the final confrontation with Peck in the hotel room and afterwards the flashback to the first driving lesson. And then the last scene, which brings us up to the present. This is a movement forward. For me, purgation means a forward movement.

true for families too

One reason so many exes cannot seem to stop talking to each other during their breakups — making furious, ill-advised late-night phone calls and crafting exquisitely damning emails even as they’re vowing never to speak to each other again — is that they’re struggling to wrest control of the narrative. They’re like antagonists at the climax of a melodrama grappling for the last weapon, telling each other No, this is what happened, here’s what went wrong, I’ll tell you why it’s over.

- Tim Kreider

Monday, June 9, 2014

Ursula K. Le Guin continues her marvelous catblogging

Silence. Absence. No cat.
I tell myself to stop fretting, and Charles tells me to stop fretting, and I attempt or pretend to stop fretting, and go on with whatever I’m doing, fretting.
The sense of mystery is constant and oppressive.
And then, there he is. He has rematerialized before my eyes. There he is, with his tail curved over his back, and a bland, friendly expression suggesting permanent readiness for Food.
Pard, where were you?
Silence. Affable presence. Mystery.
I think he uses the Time Machine. I think it takes him elsewhere. Not cyberspace, that’s no place for cats. Maybe he uses it to open temporal interstices, like the impossible window-frame non-spaces by which box elder beetles enter the house. By such secret ways, known to Bastet and Li Shou, lit by the stars of Leo, he visits that mysterious realm, that greater outdoors, where he is safe and perfectly at home. 

- via

“Frankenstein M.D.”

Pemberley Digital is teaming up with PBS Digital Studios to bring you “Frankenstein M.D.,” a web series adaptation of the classic novel Frankenstein. Inspired by brilliant British author Mary Shelley, who is credited with inventing the science fiction/horror genre when she was only 18, the series reimagines the title character as Victoria Frankenstein, an obsessive, eccentric prodigy determined to prove herself in the male-dominated fields of science and medicine.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A Most Dangerous Woman


(altho she looks more like she's supposed to be George Sand, not George Eliot. But still, great photo!)

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

what a guy said in line today at the food bank

"These ain't just people with they hands out. I work, as much as I can. But I don't get paid enough to live."

Sunday, June 1, 2014

"Tolkien's Beowulf," Jeffrey Alan Love


pedicabo ego vos et irrumbo


David Graeber in Salon

I think the spotlight on the financial sector did make apparent just how bizarrely skewed our economy is in terms of who gets rewarded and for what. There was this pall of mystification cast over everything pertaining to that sector—we were told, this is all so very complicated, you couldn’t possibly understand, it’s really very advanced science, you know, they are coming up with trading programs so complicated only astro-physicists can understand them, that sort of thing. We just had to take their word that, somehow, this was creating value in ways our simple little heads couldn’t possibly get around. Then after the crash we realized a lot of this stuff was not just scams, but pretty simple-minded scams, like taking bets you couldn’t possibly pay if you lost and just figuring the government would bail you out if you did. These guys weren’t creating value of any kind. They were making the world worse and getting paid insane amounts of money for it.

Suddenly it became possible to see that if there’s a rule, it’s that the more obviously your work benefits others, the less you’re paid for it. CEOs and financial consultants that are actually making other people’s lives worse were paid millions, useless paper-pushers got handsomely compensated, people fulfilling  obviously useful functions like taking care of the sick or teaching children or repairing broken heating systems or picking vegetables were the least rewarded.


books read in June 2014

Fiction is in red.

84. The Mystery of Lewis Carroll, Jenny Woolf
85. The Glass God, Kate Griffin (these are quite good so far - a lot better than what the Matthew Swift series turned into)
86. The Bone Key, Sarah Monette (excellent. Booth is a wonderful character, the style is pitch-perfect)
87. Unnatural Creatures, Sarah Monette (ditto) 
88. Good Calories, Bad Calories, Gary Taubes (really pretty heavy slogging. I was interested in the science - or lack thereof - behind the popular health press, and this was satisfying, but still clunky) 
89. My Salinger Year, Joanna Rakoff (extraordinarily slight. This is what gets published in hardback nowadays? Also rather amazingly petty)
90. The Wench is Dead, Colin Dexter
91. Codex Born, Jim Hines (pretty disappointing)
92. Redshirts, John Scalzi (quite funny, but he absolutely blows the ending, and the codas suck)
93. Rough Ride, Paul Kimmage 
94. The Crossing Places, Elly Griffiths
95. Our Culture, What's Left of It: The Mandarins and the Masses, Theodore Dalrymple
96. The Silkworm, Robert Galbraith/J.K. Rowling
97. The Shroud Maker, Kate Ellis (mediocre)
98. MFA v NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction, ed. Chad Harbach (frequently infuriating)
99. The Quick, Lauren Owen
100. The Alice Behind Wonderland, Simon Winchester
101. The Orchid Thief, Susan Orlean
102. My Kind of Place: Travel Stories from a Woman Who's Been Everywhere, Susan Orlean