Monday, January 28, 2008

Working in a library will do that to you.

Every once in a while I catch a bout of knowledge acquisition anxiety. I still have a bookmark on which I wrote, years ago, a quotation from a story by J.R.R. Tolkien: "'I wish life was not so short,' he thought. 'Languages take such a time, and so do all the things one wants to know about.'"

Today in between my shifts at the library I went to check out a book I had put on hold and discovered two more sitting beside it that I forgot I had even requested. The knowledge-fever began to creep up my neck. In honors comp last week, we chose topics for our "course companion" research papers, which needed to involve other classes we're taking. Though my "relationship between music and literature during the Romantic period" drew an "Oh-ho-ho" followed by a "Well, you'll certainly find plenty of information" from my prof, my subsequent search queries were disappointing—whence came the book requests.

Though not specifically about the Romantic period (I just threw that in there because we were learning about a Romantic piece in Intro to Music, and because I thought, silly me, that I'd have to keep my topic as narrow as possible) the books, Music and Literature and The Arts and Their Interrelations, speak precisely to what taking these courses simultaneously has sparked in me. How do music and literature intersect? Do they at all? I know they do. Thumbing through the first title, I chanced on a discussion of story by Thomas Mann I read last year, "Tonio Kroger," which, the author posits, Mann wrote strikingly like the composition of a sonata.

I wanted to read it all, wanted to take it all in thoroughly, systematically, wanted to give the author my full attention, grapple with his premises and gain from his insight. But I had to interview a source for my story and I had to contact KPBS's program director and I had to go to the newspaper meeting and I had to shelf-read and I had to finish my Lit 203 homework. And I still have to type up notes for tomorrow's comp class. And so this is where the intellectual anxiety wells up. I gave up on learning everything there is to know somewhere between elementary school and the end of high school. But I still get the panicky feeling that I'll never have the time to delve into the truly or even just moderately interesting things.

It was funny to see my thoughts echoed, though in quite a different context, in the excerpt I had to read today. A Buddhist left-winger wrote of the Salvation Army, unable to agree with their theology but unreservedly lauding them for acting on their convictions and doing more to help the destitute than most social liberals. She quotes one Army worker as saying, "It's so difficult to find the time. . . . That's kind of a lame excuse, I guess, but I think we're in the last days, myself. There's so many things that need to be done, and so little time to do it in."

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Family, food, and fun.

My family came down Saturday to celebrate my dad's birthday. We began the festivities at Taco Surf, home to myriad surfboards, oceany artwork, and the best ceviche in Mission Beach.

We opened presents and had cake there. The twins had baked a blood orange sponge cake that is sitting behind the salsa in the picture.

We then drove down to Pacific Beach to break in the football that the twins had got him (not the one in the picture). A surprisingly exciting game of touch football ensued--I think we even had some spectators up on the cliffs. Grandma Barr, at least, enjoyed it. For some reason, even though we play soccer incessantly, we've never played a game of football together. It was actually really fun. Angelica, Rachel, and I held our own against Mom, Dad, and Shannon. We were down at the beginning, because we didn't know all the rules (you can't pass forward on a return kick?), but we quickly made up the difference, and ended with a tie.

Then we drove up to La Jolla Shores. The clouds moving in were magnificent.

If you look closely in the center of this picture, you can see a dolphin's fin poking up. A pod swam around the point as we stood watching, but as they glide so quickly in and out of the water, it was all I could to catch a shot of one.

Next we drove into Pacific Beach to dine at Filippi's, home of amazing pizza. To cap off the night, we went a couple blocks up the street for ice cream at Mr. Frosty's. All our favorite places in one day. Happy birthday, Dad!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Pathetic fallacy.

Though the sun was shining bright and golden, raindrops spattered on my head as I walked to a meeting today. The light shone through the drops and though it made them sparkly, it did not make them any less wet.

I got my RA rejection letter today. I really, really wanted that position. And I'm not a big fan of rejection. I'm pretty much a chronic rejection-avoider. And so there's really not much more to say about that.

However, I did have the better part of a paltry eight-page issue of The Point Weekly devoted to my writing this week.

The articles are essentially spiffed-up AP-compliant versions of the entries I posted here a few weeks ago.

So that was good. I'm still seriously bummed, though. I'd go drown my sorrows in something, but I'm not that sort of person. I think I am going to go to the campus student film forum tonight, though. That should perk me up.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Three-day weekend.

Friday: My mom had WASC training here in San Diego, so she and my grandma came down and visited me after I got off work. We found an Indian restaurant with an excellent buffet and feasted on lentil soup, tofu curry, cucumber raita, garlic naan, cabbage stir-fry, rice pudding--so, so good.

Saturday: It was gorgeous, just gorgeous. I ran in the morning, went to brunch, and wrote an essay in the afternoon. I made myself dinner in my room, then caught the campus shuttle to a cafe down on Rosecrans, where Madame Bovary and I shared a cup of coffee with the night.

Sunday: I went to church as usual, and then to brunch. Afterwards, unwilling and unable to hole up inside on such a day, I biked along Sunset Cliffs Blvd.

This is Hill St. As if you needed to be told that. It's actually taller than what you can see in the picture, but the angle obscures the top. The ride down is an unparalleled rush. The hike back up is not so fun.

This is how amazingly beautiful it was.

This is proof of me pausing to read a section of The Odyssey, by the sea, like my prof insisted we do.

The water was so clear at points, I could see starfish in the tide pools, even from so high up.

That evening, I spent time with some girls on my hall.

A couple of them had friends from other schools visiting, and later that night, they let me tag along out to dinner and dessert.

Today: I went for a run, ate brunch (after three days in a row, eggs and salsa start to get real old), read more of The Odyssey, and went to dinner. Now here's the thing. To understand what I'm saying, you need to understand this. I told myself I wouldn't post any more lonely soliloquies. But maybe my expression in that picture gives me away. I spent a lot of the weekend alone; even when I wasn't literally, I still figuratively felt it. And here came the best part of my weekend: the hour I spent after dinner in the newspaper office, editing articles and talking to the staff. Some laughing conversation and some kind words about the articles I wrote this week, and I was content with the world.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

What service.

So a very exciting thing happened on Monday--stands of free newspapers cropped up all over campus. Ecstatic, I grabbed USA Today and The New York Times and stuffed them into my bag. I did the crosswords as soon as I got a free moment.

I guess we as the student body have essentially already paid for them, but it was super nice of the ASB to put their allotted funds towards something that directly benefits me. Newspapers make me really, really happy.

Monday, January 14, 2008

It will be available on the website in a day or so, but you read it here first!

Okay, so the fact that my article will only be in the online version of the Point Weekly and not this week's print version because we only ran eight pages and my story was not deemed important enough to warrant publication is not that exciting. But I did put time and effort into it, so please appreciate it for all it's worth.

Students Weather the Storms
By Kaitlin Barr

[David Kruckenberg and Elizabeth Unruh in Grass Valley, Calif., on January 5, 2008. Photo courtesy David Kruckenberg]

Rain and snow battered northern California last week as some PLNU students returned to campus. Major roads were closed and more than two million people lost power as a series of winter storms hit the West Coast.

“There were multiple storms, just raging gusts of winds, 100 mph, highly destructive,” said David Kruckenberg, junior.

Kruckenberg was visiting freshman Elizabeth Unruh in Grass Valley, east of Sacramento, when the storms began.

“The worst part was worrying that the wind was going to knock things down,” Kruckenberg said. “Power was knocked out for a day and a half.”

Likewise, Brenna Bowers, a freshman from Santa Rosa, lost power and water for two days. She described in an e-mail “waking up suddenly to the howling winds and having fear of the trees outside my window crashing down because of the strong winds and rain.”

Bowers drove back to school with freshman Stephanie Gant.

“Some streets were closed for flooding,” Gant said. “It made driving a bit more scary.”

In addition to flooded streets, fallen trees and downed power lines threatened the travelers. Bowers said, “It ended up taking [two to three] hours longer because of the rain but God graciously gave my friend and I a safe trip.”

Kruckenberg and Unruh had also planned to drive back to school, but Grass Valley had received too much snow.

“There were trees broken down and roof damage to some buildings,” said Kruckenberg.

They decided to fly back instead.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

It's lonely at the top.

So Friday night I was in my room listening to the girls on my hall get ready to go wherever they were going, feeling somewhat put out that I hadn't been invited. If I hadn't already had plans for the night, it would have been a pitiful scene. I know I could have gotten myself invited, but it's not the same as being asked. Petty, yes, but I'm telling the truth here. I went out to Coronado with some of the people from the newspaper staff and we ate gelato, walked the beach, and returned to Point Loma to watch an interesting French movie. (Called "Paris Je t'aime," it comprised 20 directors' five-minute shorts depicting loves in and of the city--very cute and thoughtful.)

Saturday I forced myself to sleep in, and after laundry and brunch I sat at my desk doing Spanish homework. Midafternoon, tired of studying alone on a weekend, feeling sorry and pathetic, I wandered down the hallway and got myself invited to go shopping (I told you I could do it if I wanted to). But somewhere between the racks of obscenely priced and ridiculously posturing clothing (I'm sorry, but real rock stars and hippies do not shop at Macy's) I lost my desire for companionship and wanted only to retreat to my dull, uncommercialzed haven. And I did, reveling in the familiar, perverse joy of going to bed at 9:30 on a Saturday night.

Today I was done with trying to find someone to hang out with. I bicycled to church alone, sat in a pew alone, exchanged a few pleasantries as best I could, and came back in time for brunch. But the weather was irresistible, calm and sunny, sparkling and blue, and there was no way I was going to spend it holed up in my room (or tanning, like half my hallmates did). No, I decided to take a page out of Emily Blunt's book and bike to the Ft. Rosecrans National Cemetery out on the naval base.

I once went scuba diving with my dad out by that island in the picture above. I sat next to the grave of someone named Ralph who was born in 1887 and died in 1959, because my grandpa was named Ralph, and it felt appropriate. I spread out with the Madame Bovary I had to read for Lit 203 and commiserated with the wind blowing straight off the water. I thought about the things that one thinks about in a cemetery with the sharp, limitless line of the horizon curving endlessly.

I also thought about getting a road bike. It's embarrassing how many bikers left me in their respective dust paths. One cyclist smiled benignly as he passed me struggling up a particularly steep incline and said, "It's harder without gears, isn't it?" I just agreed politely and kept pedaling. My beach cruiser is cute, but let's face it, not designed for a place whose name literally means "hill."

Friday, January 11, 2008

I know she complimented my writing, but . . .

My Lit 201 prof reminds me of a pet chicken I once had, Penelope. It's strangely appropriate, as we're currently reading The Odyssey. Her chest puffs out birdlike over her thin legs. Her hair, lips, fingernails, and toenails all sport the same purple-red, reminsicent of the plumage that feathered my Rhode Island Red. She tends to squawk a little, too.

Today, she read a few reading journals from the assignments we had this week. "Oh, here's a title I like," she said, and proceeded to read:

Finger-Painting: Broad Brushes of Color in The Odyssey

I read from a translation by Robert Fitzgerald because I had a copy, and because after cross-referencing some of the passages with the online version at Perseus, I found I preferred the former. The deft poet paints his scenes in bright, quick strokes. He daubs brief, simple colors upon his verse with illustrative, forcefully apt penetration. The mere “Menelaus, the red-haired captain” invites a picture of the striking contrast this man’s blazing shock of hair must have been to the “grey sea” he rode upon. This shade is reflected too in “grey-eyed Athena,” a constant refrain. The color evokes the wisdom and power the goddess holds within her, her oddly tinted eyes a reflection of her other-worldliness.

Elsewhere, the “pink light” of Dawn’s appearance emanates across the horizon, illuminating Telemachus’ ascendance as the defender of his mother. The “black wave” of Odysseus’ impending return looms over Penelope’s suitors. Bound for Nestor’s shores, Telemachus boards a “black ship” driven by a contrasting “white sail.” Though he navigates the “hazy sea,” he is ever “clear-headed Telemachus,” able to determine the best routes not only on the water, but in his dealings with men, too.

These intense colors flash repeatedly throughout the narrative in similar manners. The recurring images must have aided the epic’s oral audience in identifying and recalling the important figures of the story. Achingly elementary but stunningly appropriate, the poet’s painterly approach evokes a broadly drawn canvas of figures representing the starkly concrete ancient view of the world.

She called it a "spectacular" entry, both "literally" and figuratively. I was just relieved to find that hearing my words in her theatrical cluck did nothing to lessen their appeal to me.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

And, would you believe it, that's not even all of it.

Click to enlarge. What this schedule doesn't encompass is the time I'm going to spend interviewing for newspaper stories, and also a new title I gained today: Professor Hill's TA.

My supervisor at the library asked me yesterday if I'd be interested in assisting a literature professor with grading and data input. Of course, I said yes. I dressed interviewish today and brought a copy of my resume along with me to his office today, but I should have known from the "Robin's recommendation rates high with me" in his email that it was unnecessary.

I've never gotten a job so easily. It felt really good.

Monday, January 7, 2008

"Where all existence is a dream of ease . . ."

"Snowfall is never known there, neither long
frost of winter, nor torrential rain,
but only mild and lulling airs from Ocean
bearing refreshment for the souls of men--
the West Wind always blowing."

So Homer describes the Greek paradise reserved solely for heroes who could claim relation to the gods. It's uncanny how similar my little existence is. I didn't realize how much I had missed the embracing sea air until I got out of the car in Mission Beach with my dad to eat at Taco Surf (the proprieter's first language must be Spanish; else whence the noun preceding the adjective?). I grinned and thought, I'll never be cold again.

The desert really is icy in the winter. Icy, and dry. No more compulsive lotion applying; no more biting morning jogs past frosty front lawns. I'm in San Diego through May. I missed the ocean, too--the unbroken horizon and the reliably stunning sunsets, the sailboats spotting the peaking crests.

So that passage above is from my first homework assignment of the semester: the first four books of The Odyssey. Due Wednesday. I'm pretty much ready to get back into this whole learning thing. I'm just trying to adjust to the rhythm of college life. How odd it is to spend four months with people, then take off for three weeks only to reconvene once again, now having to reevaluate and resume all these relationships. I've caught myself on this weird auto-pilot setting at times, which can come in handy. Like when I moved back in yesterday--I discovered my fridge was full of mold. I immediately scrubbed and disinfected it, then proceeded to systematically unpack the insane amount of luggage I had (why is it that I have so many clothes, and yet I continually seem to need more?). I didn't spend much time thinking about it, or moaning or procrastinating about it, for that matter. I did the same thing in most of my conversations today--just went for it, didn't really think about what I was saying or even worry about it too much. Just babbled, in some cases. Yeah, I was totally on auto-pilot, come to think of it. Because, I mean, I haven't thought about it until now.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

It wouldn't be Christmas break without Camp Maranatha.

I spent my last weekend of break working at camp with my sisters and Emily Blunt.

We stayed in the Maple Lodge, happily neighboring Lisa.

Emily Blunt is an excellent person, renowned for such merits as spontaneous hand massages.

My sisters and I aren't afraid of unflattering pictures. (I'm at college now; you can't kill me for posting these!)

Above, Bowden, Sarah, and Emily preceding me on a hike to find an unidentified animal's spine and pelvis atop a rock.

When not working in the kitchen serving 200 campers (!), we did things that regrettably didn't involve pictures--like browsing at the thrift store, hanging out in the office, watching Seinfeld at Lisa's, and making coconut cookies while playing board games at the Tates.' It was a weekend with some of my favorite people, and like always, I left wishing I didn't have to.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Becoming Madame Mao by Anchee Min

The Point Loma Writer’s Symposium by the Sea site says it well:

"As a girl, Anchee Min learned to write 'Long live Chairman Mao,' before she learned to write her own name. She was devoted to Mao and to communism and was selected to star in a propaganda film for having the ideal 'proletarian' look. Mao died before the film was completed. Min was labeled a political outcast by association. In 1984, with the help from friends in the United States, Min left China and came to America. Within six months she had taught herself English. Her bestselling memoir, Red Azalea, the story of her childhood in communist China, has been compared to The Diary of Anne Frank. Min credits English with giving her the voice and vocabulary to write about growing up during China’s Cultural Revolution. Called a 'wild, passionate and fearless American writer' by The New York Times, Min has written four other works of historical fiction: Katherine, Becoming Madame Mao, Wild Ginger and Empress Orchid."

Anchee Min will be one of the featured speakers at this conference in February, so I made it a point to pick up one of her books. Simple and powerful, Min’s biographical novel explores the development of Mao Zedong’s most prominent female companion. The protagonist begins life as congenitally subjugated Yunhe, who defies her mother’s attempts to bind her feet. Later, she throws off all connections to her family entirely in her efforts to distinguish herself, ever believing that she is a “peacock among hens.”

After moving to Shanghai to create a new persona as an actress, Yunhe reinvents herself as Lan Ping. She becomes entangled in the Communism that is beginning to take shape, eventually crossing paths with Mao Zedong himself. She bewitches him, and he christens her Jiang Ching. But as Mao gains political power, the romance wanes, and Jiang Ching must struggle the rest of her life to achieve and maintain any clout within her personal and political realms.

Ever the actress, Jiang Ching plays the parts that will give her the advantages she needs to gain the power she craves. But navigating the hierarchy of Communist Chinese government requires an unceasing vigilance and ruthless vindictiveness that ultimately destroys the bearer. Jiang Ching spends her years with Mao constantly warring with him and his subordinates, only to be subjected to factory work after Mao’s death.

Though Min’s Madame Mao is fully human, her merciless craving for domination discourages sympathy. The novel itself, however, deserves commendation. Min alternates between the first and third person, allowing her protagonist to speak for herself while placing her in the context of her comrades. Her prose, unadorned with superfluous modifiers or punctuation, reflects the simplicity of Madame Mao’s unceasing struggle for fulfillment. Laden with Sinocentric imagery, beautifully understated, Min’s novel captivates and ravishes.