Thursday, October 30, 2008

I can't recommend books, but I can do oeuvres. If you only read three authors in your life: Thoreau, Dostoevsky, and Austen. Austen is optional.

We read Thoreau in American Writers last week, and my deep affection for him welled up all over again. I realized that Walden completely altered my sixteen-year-old self's conception of the world even more than I thought it did—so much of what he asserts underlies the way I approach things. I definitely read it twice during high school, and after the excerpts we went through in our anthology, I feel like I need to go it again. I wanted to collect the most striking passages that I came away with this time around, so I've assembled them here. They're all from "Where I Lived, and What I Lived For" and "Conclusion."

I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor. . . . To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour.

If men would steadily observe realities only, and not allow themselves to be deluded, life, to compare it with such things as we know, would be like a fairy tale . . . If we respected only what is inevitable and has a right to be, music and poetry would resound along the streets. When we are unhurried and wise, we perceive that only great and worthy things have any permanent and absolute existence—that petty fears and petty pleasures are but the shadow of the reality.

What was the meaning of that South-Sea Exploring Expedition, with all its parade and expense, but an indirect recognition of the fact, that there are continents and seas in the moral world, to which every man is an isthmus or an inlet, yet unexplored by him, but that it is easier to sail many thousand miles through cold and storm and cannibals, in a government ship, with five hundred men and boys to assist one, than it is to explore the private sea, the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean of one's being alone.

However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. . . . The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the alms-house as brightly as from the rich man's abode; the snow melts from its door as early in the spring. I do not see but a quiet mind may live as contentedly there, and have as cheering thoughts, as in a palace. . . . Superfluous wealth can buy superfluities only. Money is not required to buy one necessary of the soul.

As I stand over the insect crawling amid the pine needles on the forest floor, and endeavoring to conceal itself from my sight, and ask myself why it will cherish those humble thoughts, and hide its head from me who might perhaps be its benefactor, and impart to its race some cheering information, I am reminded of the greater Benefactor and Intelligence that stands over me the human insect.

There is an incessant influx of novelty into the world, and yet we tolerate incredible dulness.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

27 October 2008.

The art kick I've been on actually started earlier in the week, when I saw this exhibit at the gallery on campus and thought that it would make for an excellent profile in the paper. It did.

The artist is from New York and the curator is a senior here. This was the first time we've had a student curate a show for a senior project, which made a nice news angle.

These were some of my favorite pieces.

He specializes in conceptual, found-object art. Inside that tiny window, it's raining. Like, real moisture.

I don't know if the arrow is discernible, but it says, "The Last Painting."

I interviewed the artist over the phone. He explained that this piece began simply as "Yo," then became "Yo love," and eventually grew into what it is now.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Aesthetic dietetics.

This weekend, I was lucky enough to find out that my friend Jill was going to the San Diego Museum of Art for a class assignment. Steph and I were all too happy to tag along. I was stunned by my good fortune; when I was researching things to do for fall break for the center spread I did a couple of weeks ago, I came across these exhibits and longingly wished I could go. But then I did, and it was greater than even my wistful resignation could have devised.

One of the current exhibits featured the work of Eleanor Antin, a professor emeritus of UCSD. She staged these epic scenes of people dressed as Romans and photographed them, creating giant canvases that presented a scathing metaphor of consumer glut and indifferent apathy. They were all taken in San Diego, and I especially loved this one, with the Roman columns foundering on Torrey Pines State Beach.

The museum has a splendid permanent collection of Asian art, Japanese lacquerwork and Chinese scrolls and Buddhist statuary, which, I was delighted to find, were often in poses that we'd do in yoga class. This was actually a really artsy weekend for Steph and me. The night before, we'd gone to La Jolla to get coffee with some friends. We stopped into a couple of galleries as we walked through town and stumbled upon Picassos, Warhols, and Chagalls for sale.

One room was devoted to devotional works, iconography and madonnas and the like. This lamb was brilliant in real life, the center of the halo the tiniest, most precisely luminous dot imaginable.

The other traveling exhibit presented works on paper by women. The stonework on this cathedral was so intricate and arresting. I wish the picture could do it justice.

I loved this art deco painting as well, soft watercolor and lithe linear swooping movement. A lot of the works there, the docent told us excitedly, had never been shown before. The museum acquired them eighty or a hundred years ago, but had had to store them until now.

And they had a Rene Magritte. Magritte is totally random, hyper-realistic, and invariably absurd, which is clearly why he appealed so much to me as a child. Seriously—in fourth grade, I was all about the guy. And that made seeing his stuff in real life that much more satisfying. It was all really satisfying.

Friday, October 24, 2008

I had "Free Fallin" by Tom Petty stuck in my head all weekend; for one thing, we were right off Ventura Boulevard . . .

For Fall Break, some friends and I went home with our friend Nicole to LA, and she showed us her town. We meandered through the Getty, where I got to revisit Renoir, Monet, Van Gogh, Caspar David Friedrich, Bernini . . .

We also did some shopping at consignment stores and met some of Nicole's friends. We stayed in her dad's apartment since he was in Mexico, super happy to have two bedrooms and two bathrooms between us.

One night we went out dancing, which gave Nicole the chance to dress me up and do my makeup. I usually have barely enough time to brush my teeth in the morning, so it was fun to look like I care about what I look like. I even had enough time to finish Cotton Mather's commentary on the prologue to the book of Acts. Up next: the book of John.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

"I ask not for the great, the remote, the romantic; ... I embrace the common, I explore and sit at the feet of the familiar, the low." —Emerson

So the other day, I walked to Fresh and Easy to get my weekly loaf of bread. Fresh and Easy invariably has wonderful samples; this time it was tiny slices of pizza and little cups of shrimp and salsa. I love coming in early in the day, because they brew fresh coffee, and really, there's nothing like free coffee.

There's nothing like grocery shopping, either. Bright lights and neat rows, health and sustenance and satisfaction. I liked shopping for six at home, driving to the store alone and reveling in the rare independence of late adolescence, turning the radio to whatever station I wanted and singing loud and unrestrained, knowing that no one could possibly hear me. I liked having the latitude to buy large quantities and varieties, trying to figure out what would be both nutritious and eaten by everyone.

But I like the freedom I have now of just shopping for myself, too. Whatever I buy, I am going to eat. I don't have to please anyone but myself, don't have to worry about anything going to waste. I know I'll enjoy it.

And that's what I did, bought exactly what I wanted. I meandered down the aisles and consulted my own taste. And then I saw the multipack of reusable containers. Reusable containers are a strange mixture of domesticality and financial security. People with tupperware have the time and money to buy extraneous storage units and sort their sundries. People with tupperware are organized and well-adjusted. Clearly, tupperware must be a fairly accurate indicator of prosperity. Clearly, I've been effectively marketed to, and clearly, I don't care. Disposable reusables, moreover, have enchanted me since their advent some time in the late '90s. They'd last almost as long as traditional tupperware, but require a significantly smaller initial investment. I had some in my dorm already, but, after looking at the bag of salted pistachios in my hand, I realized I really wanted a couple in smaller sizes so that I could conveniently bring nuts to work for my lunch break. I didn't really need the magical variety, but it was only five dollars. And so I thought, why not?

And so I felt freedom in my impulsiveness, and luxury in my abundance. Of reusable containers.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The perks of being an indexer.

So I picked up a little job last week marking all the indexed terms in a book that the Point Loma Press on campus is reprinting: For Zion's Sake by Ronald Kirkemo. It's essentially a history of the university, filled with crises and conflicts and nostalgia, church politics, Wesleyans and Nazarene prevening grace. I got to read snippets of it as I flipped through highlighting names. This was one of my favorites, about a mid-20th century lit prof:
Noel Fitch . . . believed great literature "grapples with truth, with the big questions about life and God and nature." While the Bible contains truth about salvation, great literature contains truth about how to live in a world where absolutes and the definition of perfection are "shrouded in the dust and cloud of the human condition, of our finiteness and sin." Literature reflects the ambiguity of the world, and from that literature students can learn to deal openly and honestly with their doubts and experiences.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

On straying from the assigned reading in my American Writers anthology and finding 200-year-old stuff that's still strangely appropriate now.

THAT minds are not alike, full well I know,
This truth each day's experience will show;
To heights surprising some great spirits soar,
With inborn strength mysterious depths explore;
Their eager gaze surveys the path of light,
Confest it stood to Newton's piercing sight.
Deep science, like a bashful maid retires,
And but the ardent breast her worth inspires;
By perseverance the coy fair is won.
And Genius, led by Study, wears the crown.
But some there are who wish not to improve
Who never can the path of knowledge love,
Whose souls almost with the dull body one,
With anxious care each mental pleasure shun;
Weak is the level'd, enervated mind,
And but while here to vegetate design'd.
The torpid spirit mingling with its clod,
Can scarcely boast its origin from God;
Stupidly dull—they move progressing on—
They eat, and drink, and all their work is done.
While others, emulous of sweet applause,
Industrious seek for each event a cause,
Tracing the hidden springs whence knowledge flows,
Which nature all in beauteous order shows.
Yet cannot I their sentiments imbibe,
Who this distinction to the sex ascribe,
As if a woman's form must needs enrol,
A weak, a servile, an inferiour soul;
And that the guise of man must still proclaim,
Greatness of mind, and him, to be the same:
Yet as the hours revolve fair proofs arise,
Which the bright wreath of growing fame supplies;
And in past times some men have sunk so low,
That female records nothing less can show.
But imbecility is still confin'd,
And by the lordly sex to us consign'd;
They rob us of the power t'improve,
And then declare we only trifles love;
Yet haste the era, when the world shall know,
That such distinctions only dwell below;
The soul unfetter'd, to no sex confin'd,
Was for the abodes of cloudless day design'd.
Mean time we emulate their manly fires,
Though erudition all their thoughts inspires,
Yet nature with equality imparts
And noble passions, swell e'en female hearts.

Judith Sargent Murray wrote a pivotal essay in The Massachusetts Magazine in 1790 entitled, "On the Equality of the Sexes," and she prefaced it with this poem. The rest of the essay is just as brilliant and sarcastic: "Assuredly great activity of mind is thereby discovered [in fashion and gossip], and was this activity properly directed, what beneficial effects would follow. Is the needle and kitchen sufficient to employ the operations of a soul thus organized? I should conceive not."

Murray realized how essential rational thought, individual identity, and the capacity for independence are to a young woman. I never realized what a feminist I am until it became clear to me that my demographic doesn't necessarily understand this.

Moreover, the Palin nomination brought to light the latent, unconscious assumptions that still fester beneath our political discourse. I know Sarah Palin was selected because she is a woman, but Barack Obama was selected because he is black, and we are going to continue making decisions based on these distinctions until we are a properly representational republic. Fifty percent of voters are female; how many politicians are? Israel is going on its second female prime minister; where are our female leaders?

If we really believe in gender equality, we need to show it. Let's hold the door open for each other.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

"People wonder why the level of reason and discourse is low. We read junk books."

So James McBride came to our school this week, and I wrote an essay on his lecture to the LJML department for extra credit in my lit class. Besides The Color of Water, he also wrote the book and the screenplay that has become the latest Spike Lee movie, Miracle at St. Anna.

From the moment he walked in, James McBride commanded the attention of the audience. At first it was unsaid, as he strode toward the front with a mien of import and impatience, there to do what he was paid to do and not necessarily enthralled with the idea. But then it was said: he told us to look alive, and give him some feedback, because he was tired. Clearly, he was there to talk to us, but only if we were interested.

I was. I had read The Color of Water as an incoming freshman and found McBride’s unconventional upbringing fascinating. That he and all of his siblings went on to higher education reinforced my belief that anyone can and, in an ideal world, everyone would, do the same. In the lecture, he mentioned his family, saying that at home he did not have the ability to make his own decisions or form his own opinions. “Since I have left school, I have really been on my own. I don’t listen to anybody else, because if I did, I wouldn’t get anything done,” he said.

I latched on to his perspective on the writing process. He said that journalism is an excellent place for writers to begin, because the medium “forces you to get your facts straight.” Stay in it too long, though, and you will become cynical. “All your creativity goes out the bottom of your shoes,” he said.

He continues to write every day. “Today, I still got up and wrote for a half-hour,” he said. “Because that is what I do.”

I went up to him afterward and tried to get him to agree to judge the non-fiction section of this year’s Driftwood, but he declined, saying that he was too busy this year, and even if he weren’t, he hated the idea of deciding who would win and who wouldn’t. He said he’d never won anything like that, and that far too often the best writers get overlooked. I told him that he did get a movie deal, after all.

I also told him that I wanted to be an editor. “Good,” he said. “There’s a need for good editors.” He said I needed to go to New York, though. “Even if it’s just for two or three years.” I told him I’d think about it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

13 October 2008.

A little bit of research, a couple of phone calls, and some Google image searching, and I had a center spread. People are really nice when you're calling to write about their events.

Monday, October 13, 2008

I love it when the weekend seems to last almost as long as the previous five days altogether.

Saturday I went with some friends to a pumpkin patch just outside of Escondido. From left: Liz W., Steph, Nina, me, and Liz J.

It was a legitimately fall day, probably the first one we've had this year.

Sunday morning, I joined Ashley, her twin sister Jenny who was out from Boston for the weekend, their brother John, and some more friends from school to hike through Torrey Pines.

We took a trail that led from the coastal scrub down to the shore.

Frankly, it was just another amazingly beautiful day. I wasn't the only one going, "Hey guys, can you believe we live here?"

This is the photo I took just before I dropped my phone. The phone is acting very sketchily right now, so if I don't answer in the next few days, it's going to be because the blow proved to be fatal. Which would be a major hassle, what with my being a journalist who needs to spend an unfortunate amount of time talking and all.

Jenny and Ashley lived on my hall freshman year. Jenny transferred at the semester to a smaller Christian school in Boston, but she comes out as much as she can to visit her family.

And here's another blue-eyed girl to match the one who posed with me at the aquarium recently.

Friday, October 10, 2008

I just wish they hadn't caught me at such an unflattering angle.

So I had stopped to talk to my friend Ashley, who was working in the financial aid office yesterday, when a reporter and a cameraman came in looking for students who would be willing to react to a story on student lending through social networking. "Why not?" I said. "I'm the copy editor of the paper here—I do a lot of interviews myself."

"Oh, well it looks like we found the right person," the reporter replied.

So I was on the channel 6 news last night. The story and video can be found here.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

6 October 2008.

I was fully intending to take it easy this week. I thought I'd cover Surf and Skate Saturday—a few preliminary interviews with the people behind it and then some student reactions at Mission Beach that weekend. And then I sat down with the director of activities Wednesday morning, and she said, "You know it's canceled, right?"

And then I had no story. I have a 700-word article due every Wednesday in my intro to journ class, so I usually write one for the Monday paper and then turn it in two days later. But 700-word articles take time, and multiple sources. If I were a full-time journalist, this wouldn't be a problem. But I'm a student with five jobs (I know, I counted today—library assistant, TA, Cotton Mather editor, copy editor, and assistant editor of the Driftwood).

So I started texting section editors for last-minute story ideas. By Wednesday evening, I had an event to attend that night and a lunch interview lined up for Thursday.

So I wrote two. My professor complimented me on my impartiality in the Prop. 8 story, saying I covered both sides so fairly that my own view was completely unintelligible.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Visceral. Ha ha.

The posters I decided to order one day arrived in the mail last week. A couple of weeks ago, my roommate and I were trying to decide how to make our room less glaringly white. She ended up hanging photos in beautifully coordinated frames on her side, and I channeled a high-school era daydream on mine.

My semester at Hemet High included a stint in the infamous Herold's ("I'm the whore of") AP Art History class. King Herold, as he insisted, to which many students gladly complied, he be referred to, made art as accessible and as relevant as he could possibly hope to in a semi-rural public high school with information quotas to be filled and AP tests to be passed. I owe a lot of my recognition of major works to the slides we flipped through and the outlines we made of the painfully massive Janson's History of Art.

Herold maintained contact with many of his former students, and he'd often match masterpieces with anecdotes. When we studied Hieronymus Bosch's "Garden of Earthly Delights," he mentioned a guy who covered his dorm room wall with a print of it because it was so intricate, he would always have something different to look at.

I think that was the first time I realized that art could have a place in everyday life, if I wanted it to. The idea of art prints in a college dorm appealed to me on some visceral level and stuck with me, and it finally occurred to me a few weeks ago that I could buy pretty much whatever I wanted online. So I did.

"Girl with a Pearl Earring" by Jan Vermeer appeals to me for a strange combination of the movie, Vermeer's happy home life, and the intricate realism of Dutch painting. The panel of Gustav Klimt's "Tree of Life" has Klimt's whimsical ardor. I'd never seen it before I started looking for suitable prints, and I was surprised to find something unfamiliar so compelling. Renoir, with his emphasis on beauty, ("Why shouldn't art be pretty? There are enough unpleasant things in the world") always struck me as a genuinely happy individual (his misogyny notwithstanding), and my mom once told me that I looked like a Renoir, which I still consider the highest compliment she has ever paid me. "The Dance at Bougival" just seemed right.

Friday, October 3, 2008

I wish I had a word for the feeling cloudy days give me. It's like a heightened awareness, like everyone is in on this colossal joke. Super ironic.

I clocked in at the library at 1:30 pm. But then, I saw that two people were already working, and, checking the schedule, discovered that I was not supposed to come in until 2. I asked the girl manning the desk whether I was supposed to be working, and she came over to look at the schedule. She pointed at my name. "I don't think you're supposed to come in until 2:30."

She said that she had thought she was supposed to leave at 2, but was listed to work until I was to come in, which was in fact 2:30.

"How weird," I said. "Why don't I know my own schedule?"

I told her I'd go do homework in the computer lab, and take over for her whenever she wanted to leave. So I was back to work at 2, still a little mystified over why the schedule next to the time clock was so different from the one in my head.

I was still at work at 3, sitting at the circ desk, when I found it. The lost obligation. My British lit class. The one that runs from 1:30 to 2:20 Monday-Wednesday-Friday, giving me just enough time to get to the library for my 2:30 shift.

I just completely forgot to go to class. Nothing like this has ever happened to me ever. The idea of class just disappeared entirely from my head. Not my roommate walking to her class after lunch with me like she often does, not the peculiar exchange with my coworker, not the posted schedule, nothing came close to reminding me.

I tried to figure out when it vanished. It was there this morning when I saw the neatly printed analysis that was due today sticking out of my folder; it was there when I returned to my room later and switched my American lit textbook for the British one so that I'd have it later. But at some point, maybe when I was drafting a news article on Proposition 8, maybe when I ran to the financial aid office to settle my account before the late fees started accruing, maybe when I dropped off the quizzes I'd had to regrade for my professor because I'd given the students too much leeway, maybe when I, submerged in people, took a deep breath and navigated the caf for lunch—at some point, it just went away.

Today was one of the first cloudy days we've had. Maybe the missing the sun disturbed my sense of time. Or maybe since my morning journalism class was canceled, I may have subconsciously considered "class" as done for the day. I don't know. It's unnerving; I can usually trust my mind to tell me when something needs to be done. I haven't missed a single class period since I've been enrolled here. Clearly, I need a weekend.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Sometimes I feel like all I do is take off one hat and put on another . . .

So I put together this flier because we need to generate interest for the let's-generate-interest-in-the-Driftwood event that we're holding this Tuesday night. Our main problem is visibility—a surprisingly few number of people even know that the Driftwood exists, and that they can submit their original work to be published and even awarded money if they place in the top three in any of the seven categories (fiction, non-fiction, poetry, photography, art, music, film). Here's hoping dessert will be a sufficient incentive . . .