This is the second-closest bus stop to my house. Don’t you think the owners/tenants must be lovely people? They provide not only a bench but a water fountain and fresh raspberries! There are more raspberry canes planted in the square of dirt around the bus stop sign.
The first-closest bus stop to my house features a mini Australian Shepherd whose human successfully trained him not to bark at the people waiting right outside his fence, so that’s pretty impressive too.
I am taking calculus this term. There is hours and hours of homework: at our last KFC meeting, I paged through my notebook and it was all algebra and trig and f(x)s. “This is what I’m doing instead of writing now,” I said pathetically, although there were plenty of KFC meetings before I started taking calculus at which I showed up with no writing.
But calculus is going well, partly thanks to Sanguinity, in whom I have an eager live-in tutor. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I catch the early-early bus and eat a Luna bar and get downtown in time for a 7:45 start in our basement classroom. I finish off my travel mug of blessed blessed coffee and watch our instructor, who is a peppy grad student named George, do stuff on the whiteboard. It’s like TV. It’s a pretty quiet class, but on Friday we had this conversation:
student across the room: *makes a joke I didn’t quite catch*
student: Oh, it was just a Jane Austen reference.
George: I don’t know what that is.
everyone: *stares at George*
George: Is it a comic?
student: No, she’s an eighteenth-century romance author…Pride and Prejudice? Emma?
another student: It’s a girl thing.
male student in front of me: yeah, those are good books.
George: Okay, well. *back to mathy talk*
So today I was tickled to come across Jane Austen Goes to War, showing the editions of Austen novels sent along with soldiers to World Wars I and II, with a link to Kipling’s WWI story “The Janeites.”
On Friday I rode the bus to work and when I got downtown I was getting close to the end of Counting by 7s, by Holly Goldberg Sloan. I tried to get my usual mile of walking in, but it started raining, and I ended up at McDonald’s, eating breakfast and finishing the book and crying over my coffee and potato triangle. It was just so awesome. I was forty minutes late to work.
The experience was similar to reading The Fault In Our Stars, in that I’m blowing my nose and saying, “it’s, sooooo, gooo-ooo-oood!” and at the same time my brain is working over some things that are maybe not that good.
Like, the treatment of the guidance counselor is such an odd comic note. The realism of the book in general seems to fluctuate wildly. And although I love the majority-POC cast, in the end I found the Nguyen family underdeveloped. There’s a reveal about the mom at the end, and if I had been the daughter, I would have been like, WHAT? And why had the mom made the decisions she did all along? But the book is so focused on our heroine that it was let slide. The Nguyens didn’t feel stereotyped to me, emotionally, but in the absence of more context about them, some stereotypes are the best available explanation for some things about them.
Anyway, if you’ve read this book, I’d love to know if the tone and point of view worked for you, and if it made you bawl in a McDonalds or anything. By the way, I also loved it because there’s housecleaning!
Text sent to sanguinity at 4:50 p.m. yesterday: “Coming home a little early– yay! Because my back hurts– booo!” I was quite gleeful at having caught an early bus despite the tweaky back.
Text sent to sanguinity about half an hour later: “Never mind, bus rear-ended at 26th and Powell. Will be delayed.”
Even though hardly anyone felt the hit, including the driver (I’m still not sure how she knew), a supervisor was called and we all got off and waited in the mist for the next bus. But not before the bus driver brought the car driver on board to get paperwork started. Car Driver faced us all like a champ and said, “I am SO SORRY, everyone.” And get this! nobody bitched about it. #loveportland
In reading news, I started Code Name Verity and could tell right away it’s as good as everyone’s been saying.
And I finished Kage Baker’s The Sons of Heaven, which I consider the last of the novels as far as The Company series goes. I know there’s a prequel about Edward, and some short-story collections and novellas I plan to read, but it will all be filling-in. The Sons of Heaven was a gossipy and satisfying drawing together of threads, and that carried me through the Big Battle At The End (I’m not a fan of those usually, especially in fantasy novels) and the difficulty of nearly-omnipotent characters and how to make them interesting.
This afternoon I put on the season’s first Christmas music and my very favorite holiday album, 1987’s A Very Special Christmas. It’s a benefit compilation for the Special Olympics and has Bruce Springsteen’s “Merry Christmas Baby,” Alison Moyet’s “The Coventry Carol,” and Stevie Nicks’ “Silent Night.” (“Whoever that is, I’m scared,” sanguinity said.) I was so psyched I did ALL the dishes on the counters, and there were a lot of them.
~Spoiler warning for Henry James’ The Ambassadors~
Very soon after I started Henry James’ The Ambassadors, it became my bus book. Bus books are the ones I really do want to finish, but they don’t make it out of my backpack when I’m home– there’s always some other book (or the internet) that grabs my attention first. They end up living in my backpack for commuting and lunch hours, and get read eventually, maybe with a non-bus rush at the end once momentum has built.
Many of my bus books are classics or Good Hard Books, like the ones by my Dead Literary Boyfriends, Nabokov and James. In the case of The Ambassadors, Henry James himself told the Duchess of Sutherland to read it five pages at a time, “but don’t break the thread…& then the full charm will come out.” Some kinda nerve to give your friends their reading instructions, huh? This book was his favorite and I think he really wanted it to be liked. Anyway, five pages at a time it makes for a great bus book.
It was my first “late James,” and sometimes I wondered if I was actually understanding what the characters were talking about. Sometimes I wondered if any of them ever did, said, or thought anything straightforward. (How Henry James would hate Twitter.) Sometimes I marveled that anyone reads this book, even though I myself was loving it. I laughed when I ran across this Amazon review by David K. Hill:
When the topic is obvious and simple, his characters question one another intensely trying to determine what it is they are talking about. When the topic is strange and hidden, amazingly they all understand each other perfectly and silently.
My favorite small thing is how every now and then, in all the thickets of clauses and commas, there’s a rush of adjectives spilling out like their subject has flashed too bright and quick to be slowed down and contained by grammar:
What was clearer still was that the handsome young man at her side was Chad Newsome, and what was clearest of all was that she was therefore Mademoiselle de Vionnet, that she was unmistakeably pretty–bright gentle shy happy wonderful–and that Chad now, with a consummate calculation of effect, was about to present her to his old friend’s vision.
Or this one:
It was of Chad she was after all renewedly afraid; the strange strength of her passion was the very strength of her fear; she clung to him, Lambert Strether, as to a source of safety she had tested, and, generous graceful truthful as she might try to be, exquisite as she was, she dreaded the term of his being within reach.
And Jeanne, married off to an aristocrat, goodbye, sank without a ripple like Isabel Archer. Damn. And what of Maria Gostrey? All I know is if I see someone online using the handle Maria Gostrey, I will think there’s likely an interesting person.
The reason I decided to read The Ambassadors now is because one of my alphabetical-reading books, Cynthia Ozick’s Foreign Bodies, is described as a “photographic negative” of James’ novel. Eh, a bit, particularly in the comparison of Europe and America, which for me is pretty much the least interesting aspect of James but one of the most talked about. I did Ozick’s book no favors by reading it right after The Ambassadors— the multiple points of view in Foreign Bodies mostly brought home to me how masterful James was in keeping to Lambert Strether’s perspective through that whole long knotty novel. There was some good writing in the Ozick, and some that didn’t move me. I copied down one culminating quote that for me held the photographic-negative effect:
She thought: How hard it is to change one’s life.
And again she thought: How terrifyingly simple to change the lives of others.
Now I’m reading Terry Pratchett’s The Wyrd Sisters. My friend Pat played Granny Weatherwax in the stage adaptation last year, and I have a slight case of picturing the actors as the book characters. Especially Magrat, for some reason. Most recent quote I swooned over in the “it’s so true” way that Pratchett induces:
The castle was full of people standing around in that polite, sheepish way affected by people who see each other all day and are now seeing each other again in unusual social circumstances, like an office party.
Wyrd Sisters will be with me at home and on the bus til I finish it, because today I gave up on another O book and bus book, George Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying. The protagonist was too angry-sad-sack, a la Lucky Jim, and I didn’t want to spend one more minute with him.
Last week, and most of the week before that, I poured all my time into my final project for the IPRC Certificate program. I finished the revisions to my story last weekend, working all day both days; then every day after work I went to the university computer lab and laid out the InDesign files for text block and cover. Several days I stayed until the lab closed at nine. I was so tired after putting in three to five hours of extra work every day. Remind me to always work part time if possible!
I’m not sure if it’s just how I am, or the nature of the chapbook-making process, or a function of this particular project, but everything seemed riddled with errors. Files did not get saved where I thought I’d saved them (though I found them all in the end), the margins and page numbers ended up inconsistent after I did the impositions for the large folded signatures, a couple of the fold-and-cut guidelines I printed on the inside of the cover turned out to be wrong, et cetera. I had a last-minute endpaper change after my waxed paper idea did not work out. An hour before deadline I was at the IPRC, trying to finesse the stack cutter and in the process ruining a few of the copies I had lovingly sewn and glued. But I made it and turned in my two copies, phew! And I have plenty of materials to make more when I’ve had a little rest.
Graduation was yesterday, at a dance studio on Belmont. My run of errors continued and I was late, after walking a half mile to the bus stop and realizing while I stood there that I had no money or bus pass and had to walk home and back to the bus stop again. Sheesh. At least it was a sunny, pretty day.
It was on the warm side in the studio, and everyone had to take their shoes off, and some people dressed up, and we sat in folding chairs on wooden risers, so it all had a charming high-school sock hop feel to it. It was good to see my classmates again after working independently for a couple of months. People asked to see my chapbook and said appropriate things like, “What font is that?” and “I can’t see the ends of the thread from the final knot in your binding at all!”
So now I am fledged and certified in the writing and independent publishing of fiction and nonfiction! I appreciate a lot of things about the program. The writing workshop was good while it lasted, though I was sorry to see it fall by the wayside during production term. I got to see enough of letterpress and screenprinting to appreciate the art forms, and to know that I’m more of a digital girl. I got acquainted with InDesign and basic hand-binding. E-books were completely foreign to me before, and now I feel I could format my work for Kindle or other e-readers. And, as Justin the director pointed out at graduation, we don’t have to all move away and leave school–we can keep on cranking out our work at the IPRC for years.
(But first I have to draft a story for Ken’s Fan Club on Tuesday.)
Last Saturday when I was in revision hell with my final-project story, I broke away to go to volunteer training at the university. I learned the basics of being a line judge for goalball, and today I volunteered at the regional tournament finals.
It was exactly what I needed as a counterpoint to my obsessive chapbook-making– a completely unfamiliar sport, the necessity of paying attention and hustling (the clock doesn’t always stop while I’m dealing with the ball), and being around people in a way that is not too much about me. And the games today were exciting!
Short description of the game:
Three players to a team, wearing eyeshades to block all vision, on a court about the size you’d see for volleyball, but with no net and with a goal that stretches across the entire back line. Court markings are laid out in tape with cord underneath, so the players can feel where they are. The ball is basketball-sized, kind of hard and heavy, with jingly bells inside. The teams throw the ball, low (it has to bounce before a certain line on the court, and the goal is only about four feet tall), trying to make goals, while the defensive players dive, stretch out, and otherwise try to block. A lot of the players, especially the men, do a twirling discus-type throw that produces a lot of velocity and spin. Scores tend to be in the three-to-eight point range, higher than soccer but not much.
There were six matches this morning, and my feet were very tired by the end from all the standing and shifting and running. But totally worth it.
I’ve been paring back activities for awhile now. Last week I was fighting germs, and just barely had the energy to get through the workday. But even before that I went into hermit mode in the hopes of getting my IPRC final project underway. I’m not training for any races. I’m not taking any new classes. I really don’t like to be busy, don’t like the feeling of wow this is a busy week even if I like each thing in it. I think it will be a net gain to give up the busy.
But still, something is driving me to go to the weekly Morning Birdsong Walk at Mt. Tabor. Maybe it’s another iteration of What Kind of Tree Is That? In any case, I got on the bus at 6:12 this morning to rendezvous with refgoddess and M and listen to birds.
The 6:12 bus is a quiet bus. I get the feeling people are sitting there quietly contemplating their lives and the circumstances that lead them to be on the bus at that hour. By contrast, when we join the bird nerds at the park gate it’s quite chatty. I’ve been twice now, and there have been a couple of dozen people each time. Almost all of them are real birders, with binoculars and lists. There’s a pair of teenage twins who have lived near the park since they were small and are respected experts on the birds of Mt. Tabor. They could easily be E.L. Konigsburg characters. The leaders talk about the local listservs, recent bird sightings around Oregon, and the new storm-petrel species one of them helped discover on a repositioning cruise between Chile and Alaska, which is apparently a lovely way to check off lots of seabirds from your life list.
People were excited today because the spring migrations are underway in earnest after a late start. We stood for half an hour, probably, facing a big-leaf maple and watching ruby-crowned kinglets and about twenty other kinds of birds zip around. This was great for the jaded and knowledgeable, but less convenient for us beginners. On my first birdsong walk I learned what a robin song sounds like. Today I learned that juncoes go tick-tick-tick.
I peeled off long before the walk was over, and caught another bus to work. It was very noisy: after standing on the curb while 20 minutes’ worth of cars snarl by, I got on the #4, which is standing room only already at 52nd Avenue. Rush hour and construction were both underway. I was glad to get to my desk.
I have noticed something disturbing about my work habits or lack thereof. When I start feeling overwhelmed or feel like I have a lot going on, I give up on writing for the rest of the week. Instead of figuring out when the next actual available time to work will be, I look ahead to the whole week at once, shrink in horror, and spend any down time I do get rebelling and denying as hard as I can. And projecting to “next week,” when this will all be over and things will be different.
Something else, not related, that I have noticed lately: it is really, really easy to talk about television! Even KFC, a writing group full of book people, ended up talking about television a lot at our last meeting. And when I cast around for a conversation topic, TV usually works. Have I mentioned that Sanguinity and I are watching Twin Peaks for the first time?
It’s finally a sunny week here in Portland. On my bus ride this morning, the sky was blue with small perfect clouds in the distance. It was so storybook perfect that for a second I wondered if I might be dreaming, or part of a movie or simulation without realizing it. I am prone to this kind of paranoia on the bus, suddenly wondering if everyone but me is psychic and can hear my thoughts and so on.
Fourgates pointed me to a guy who’s testing the “10,000 hours” concept on golf! He’s at the one-year mark. I envy his metrics and coaching team.
How many inches of ramen in a packet? Cockeyed.com measured. I’m actually liking a lot of things on that website, including the costumes and how he documents failures as well as successes.