Sunday, March 31, 2013

On Derek Walcott and Inspiration

I went to see Derek Walcott read.

He came to my alma mater, and it was a nice excuse to get out of work for a day (because everything in the world I want to do typically happens within my working hours).  I confess, I was largely unfamiliar with his work, though that was all right; he read from his most recent book, White Egrets.

I was interested to learn, during the introductory speeches, that Mr. Walcott actually had something of a long relationship with Hartwick College. He'd written a play, Ghost Dance, for the Cardboard Alley Players, directed in 1989 by Duncan Smith, who was still in the theater department at the time of my attendance. I wasn't a theater person, not really; I auditioned for things, I knew a lot of theater people, I belonged to CAP freshman and sophomore years (interestingly, the slogan on our t-shirts was "Get off your high horse and ride the pony"). Rubbing shoulders with fame and all that (history? Giants?)

I took notes through the reading, because I thought I'd be a good doobie and blog about it. Of course a number of weeks has passed, and of course my notes are nearly incomprehensible. I got down something of a "set list", but since he read only from White Egrets, it's unnecessary to relate here. It was my first real poetry reading, and it was interesting for a number of reasons. The college president, newly elected a couple of years ago, gave a speech that could literally have preceded any "creative" visitor. One of my former writing professors gave a considerably better one, having (one assumes) previously interacted with Mr. Walcott.

When Mr. Walcott read, he did so in a straightforward manner. He paged through to the poems he was going to use, did not patter in between, and engaged in no theatrics. He made the occasional wry comment; "As you get older, you write more elegies." When he came upon yet another, he said "Oh, here we go." It was a situation in which most of the room seemed not to know if it was permissible to laugh. I did.

There was a short question session before they let him off the stage. One professor I did not take classes with went on about his use of light in his poems, and asked about painters he admired. One student said that she was interested in poetry again, because of him. One student asked where he got his inspiration, which gave me pause.

We're in the room with a Nobel prize winner, having just heard scraps of wonderment from his lips, and you're asking him about inspiration?

I wonder if some people think inspiration is a rare beast, the white whale that we Ahab writers quest after across the years, braving storm tossed seas and certain death in order to fling that harpoon and yes, finally find flesh. I wonder if some people are enamored with the idea of writing, but don't much write themselves, and hold dear to their breast the idea "If only I had the inspiration." I wonder if some people never write at all, only read, and wonder at these bright things writers put on the page, these bits of sea glass that we cannot recreate, only pick up and wonder at in the sun. I say all of this not to make fun, but in wonderment of my own.

Mr. Walcott's answer was the beauty around him. He came from Saint Lucia, a beautiful place, still a young place finding its voice, and how such a thing was very fulfilling.

One of the last questions was a young man, asking Mr. Walcott's advice to young writers. In another moment of muted laughter, Derek Walcott deadpanned "Don't do it." After we quieted, he said "No, I don't mean that. The elation you feel, you still have it. But you should learn humility. Don't be arrogant, or suicidal."

Saturday, March 30, 2013


Look, a Fifty Shades Generator! (totally raunchy and ridiculous and NSFW or whatever the hell. But if you're online at work, I salute and envy you. I can kind of go online at work, but it's mostly to look at stuff on Amazon [for when people are all "I'm looking for a book. I don't remember the title or author. The cover might be blue? It came out last year. Maybe it has 'nights' in the title'?" Some of these I magically know {the above is Blue Nights, by Joan Didion}, but seriously people? If you don't remember anything about it, how the fuck do you know you want to read it? Pick something else! AT RANDOM. It'll be just as good. Or bad. {But that reminds me, I wanted to read Slouching Towards Bethlehem by her. So thanks, guys!}])

(You can rent paperbacks on Amazon? Oh what the hell. Go to the fucking library.)

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Fiancé: I need to put a wifebeater on and start slapping Jen to keep her from talking back
Me: I don't know if that'll work.
Fiancé: What, putting the wifebeater on? I've done that before
Me:  Keeping me from talking back. We know it's impossible for me to keep my mouth shut. Well, that's not true. I have a low success rate for keeping my mouth shut.
Fiancé: I don't know. Slapping you might work.
Me: Or it might just be hot.
Fiancé: I don't know, if we're getting all Streetcar Named Desire--
Me: Will you be calling me Stella? Can my new name be Stella?
Fiancé: You're ruining this.

Monday, March 25, 2013

What's your legacy?

A pet peeve of mine (and by "pet peeve", I mean something that has potential to send me into a ranting froth rage that nobody else cares about) is when an author writes somebody else's work. I'm not talking about plagiarism; I'm talking there even a word for it? Completionism? (Google says no. It also says "else's" isn't correct.)

An example: Frank Herbert wrote Dune. He created Arrakis, wrote six books pertaining to it, of varying quality (At the very least read Dune, if you have not). But those are, without question, Frank Herbert's. Frank Herbert passed away in 1986. Then his son, Brian Herbert, came along with Kevin J. Anderson. Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson have produced a number of Dune books that I'm not even going to count. I've heard tell that he had permission from his father, and I will tell you I don't give a single fuck. Because those are not his words. They are certainly not Kevin J. Anderson's words (and I'd in fact have more respect for Brian Herbert were he to have continued his father's legacy by his lonesome).

Another: Robert B. Parker passed away in 2010. I wasn't terribly familiar with his works, having only read (yet enjoyed) Appaloosa. However, there are a number of people finishing Robert B. Parkers' series: Robert Knott, Ace Atkins, Michael Brandman. Maybe he wanted this to happen. Maybe he sold the writes to the characters. But it's weird. To me. From my side of the library counter, patrons aren't so pleased with this change in authorship. They wanted Parker's characters to be Parker's characters, not belonging to Knott, or Atkins, or Brandman. They're not concerned with copyright or anything like that, that I can tell. They're just concerned with the characters they once knew are not quite the same people.

The list could go on. Erik Van Lustbader with Robert Ludlum's books. Dirk Cussler with Clive Cussler's books. I fully confess my ignorance to the wishes of these authors. Maybe they didn't care. Maybe the ones whose sons have taken over gave the reins with well wishes and fondness in their hearts, that their sons carried on their legacy.

Do you ever wonder about your legacy? Are you published? Unpublished? I heard tell (perhaps apocryphally) that Emily Dickinson wished her papers burned upon her death. So private that she wouldn't even allow her doctor entrance to her chambers, she had any number of tiny book bundles of poetry that she'd sewed together. That somebody picked the stitches out and shared with the world.

Was this right?

Would Jane Austen have enjoyed peoples' interpretations and reinterpretations of her characters? Would she have cared?

Would Margaret Mitchell have cared that two different people wrote two very different companions to Gone With the Wind (one being Scarlett, by Alexandra Ripley, authorized by the estate and not so bad. The other was Rhett Butler's People, by Donald McCaig which I found ridiculous and didn't like at all though I wanted it to be not bad)?

Would Daphne DuMaurier have objected to two very different companions to Rebecca, one a direct sequel and one a bit more removed (Mrs. DeWinter, by Susan Hill and Rebecca's Tale, by Sally Beauman . The latter I quite enjoyed. The former was a bit too Patricia Highsmith in its building of dread in a helpless situation.)

I have any number of stories, half written, finished, barely started. I have a number of completed novels, and a number of partially finished ones, or opening gestures. Few of them have been seen by anybody, for any number of reasons: nobody asks. Or they ask and never read it. Or I ask and they never read it. Or I don't think it's good enough to see light of day. Or it's personal. Or my household really respects privacy. Or my filing system is entirely inscrutable.

Whatever the reason, should my "papers" (i.e., electronic files) be stumbled upon, and then organized, and then published, is that my legacy? What would it say about me? Albert Camus' last novel was published, unfinished by him though somewhat edited by his children. I found it unreadable, and felt they should have just left it in whatever trunk they found it. Something like that does no justice to the writer who went before, and to the work that they brought to the world. It's a shame, and I feel like Camus would have been embarrassed by it. Or maybe he wouldn't have.

But, bottom line? I don't care of the manuscript is in your hands. If it isn't yours, it isn't yours.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

P-p-p-polka face?

Fiancé: I'm going to go out on a limb here and say your Puma Face is different from your Poker face. Which is also different from your Polka Face.

Oh God, Polka Face does exist. We had no idea.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Most New Jersey ever? Well.....

So, I was on the Internet, as one does, and I found a Buzzfeed link to the 22 Most New Jersey Songs of All Time. This was subtitled "surprisingly, they're not ALL by Bruce Springsteen." Why yes, I was surprised. Being from New Jersey, I was excited and hesitant to peruse the list.

I don't know a lot of the songs. Never heard of the band (group? What are kids calling them these days? Ensemble?), never heard of the song, never heard the song itself. Real Estate? Who the hell are they? "Surburban Dogs" isn't a bad song; perhaps it will even grow on me. But, as you can imagine, it does not evoke my home state for me.

(picture from Wikimedia commons)

And Lauryn Hill is right out.

I do appreciate that there is a band called Titus Andronicus, and I think "In a Big City"is the most successful song for me in the list of "what the hell is this?!" songs, but it could be for the line "deluge of hipsters". Because seriously, hipsters.

They do say "Bruce Springsteen's entire catalog, basically", but then go to name 3 songs: "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)". Okay, good. Yes. "Atlantic City". YES. "Born to Run". Oh HELL yeah, preach it!

.....but then that's it. I mean obviously, Bruce Springsteen is New Jersey's patron saint in my eyes. Thunder Road, Spirit in the Night, Jungleland, all of it. But only three Bruce Springsteen songs get mentioned by name, while two of Bon Jovi's do? Bon Jovi just isn't as evocative for me. I'm sorry. Well, I'm not. This is my blog and I'll say what I want.

(picture from Wikimedia Commons)

I guess it would be a boring list if it was 22 Bruce Springsteen songs about New Jersey. I get that. But why both with a list that's the Most ___ of ALL Time? Did they consult anybody from New Jersey? I'm not just being picky; people commenting on the post are pretty much all "hey, what about...?"

However, all is not lost. In the sidebar was 13 Things About Rainbow Brite You'll Now Find Hilarious.  Because I'm a recalcitrant bitch, I thought

But, some of the things in that list were, in fact, really funny. And then I discovered THAT YOU CAN HAVE A RAINBOWBRITE.ORG EMAIL ADDRESS and was at the same time flailing and also paralyzed with glee. So, it balances out. Like when Osiris measures your heart against a feather, and Ammit the Destroyer gets to eat it, or not.

(interestingly, Michael the Archangel is also said to weigh the souls of the dead)

Hmm. Or maybe they don't win. They seem to think people have forgotten Celebrity Deathmatch. Seriously? Who do you talk to? Were they born in the 90's? Is that it?

Maybe I'm just addicted to list posts and need to be done. Or done with Buzzfeed. I'm going back to

Monday, March 18, 2013

Atomic Clock: Yet another misleading name

So, my nuclear accidents post got me thinking. Or I never stopped thinking, really, but it's a corollary, honest.

At the library, you wouldn't believe (or maybe you would) the conversations that we had with people, ad nauseum, about what time it really was, whether their computer time was actually up, whether it had actually started yet, etc. etc. So, we got radio controlled atomic clocks. I'm not sure where the radio is, but if the batteries are good, these clocks update themselves. Daylight Saving time, being activated for the first time, whatever. Eastern time of whichever necessary stripe, via cosmic rays. Radio waves. Whatever.

(picture from a random Tumblr page that says it's from the Watchmen movie.)

But. I find the name to be a little bit odd (direct corollary to my Words Unsaid post). When I first heard of atomic clocks, I thought of the other atomic clock, the "we're going to blow ourselves to Kingdom Come" atomic clock: the Doomsday Clock. It's also apparently not just nuclear anymore, but also includes that lovely double header of global warming and biologic threats.

The closest the Doomsday Clock has ever been to Midnight (according to their timeline) was in 1953. The United States had developed and tested the Hydrogen bomb, and Soviet Russia was hot on our heels. The furthest the Doomsday Clock has ever been from Midnight is 17 minutes, in 1991. The Cold War was over, and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty cut back on both America's and Russia's nuclear arsenals (for which you can read a very interesting chronology of here on, which is the Federation of American Scientists.)

I have my own tribute to the end of the Cold War in my house: a piece of the Berlin Wall, which I purchased at Salvation Army for $5. The kicker? The clerk at Salvation Army didn't seem to realize what she was selling me. It was in a glass case, accessible only by employees, marked "All items on this shelf $5". The exchange was brief; she said "May I help you?" and I said "I'd like that piece of the Berlin Wall!" Her eyes glazed. I said "That plastic thing with the rock in it." I gave her my $5 plus tax and left, burdened with a different type of sorrow than that which Soviet Russia wrought.

(Though in a way, it reminded me of the Neil Gaiman short story where the old woman buys the Holy Grail at her local Goodwill or whatever they call them in England.)

Monday, March 11, 2013

Words Unsaid

Once I discovered that I could read books for myself, I was no longer at the mercy of my family readers. I picked my own books and reveled in the luxury of being able to read them --- myself --- whenever I wanted. However long I wanted. I in fact used to get in trouble, at home and at school, for "reading too much". At least I wasn't out robbing old people, right?

Reading only to myself resulted in an exponential total books read. It's also resulted in my knowing words that I do not, in fact, know how to pronounce. People don't use them. Seriously. "Wont" was a word Jack London used a lot in Call of the Wild; not many eight year olds hear that in everyday use. "Wan" is another one.

What about Latin? You know, the dead language? How exactly do you say "vici", of "Veni, Vidi, Vici?" Is it like "victim" or is it like "vice"? It's hard to talk about a show Doberman you like (Protocol's Veni Vidi Vici) when you can't actually pronounce the whole of her registered name; her call name is Fifi.

It's hard to sound cool reciting Ginsberg's "Howl" from memory if you trip up at the word "dynamo" (it's pretty early on, if you're not in the know).

I also try very hard to say peoples' names correctly. At work, I'm the one who makes the library's phone calls to people who have available holds. I'm occasionally confronted with a first name I have never seen before, or heard. Or heard of. When possible, I Google it and listen to a pronunciation of it (a few baby names web sites have this, apparently. Thank God.) Sometimes even that doesn't work, and then I pray for a voicemail. That way, I can say "An item you ordered" instead of butchering their given name.

I try to keep these things in mind while I'm writing. I say sentences out loud, to see how they fit together. I ask myself if I've picked the fifty cent word, instead of the one that people will be more familiar with. I ask myself if I've picked a ridiculous name, that nobody will actually know how to pronounce. I've read entire books without knowing how to say one of the main character's names. Case in point, L. M. Montgomer's Emily of New Moon trilogy; I know how to say Emily, obviously, but her best friend's name is Ilse. Do you say it kind of like "Isles", the other word for islands? Do you use a hard "i", as with the word "Is"? Is the "e" at the end pronounced in an "a" manner (like Elsa, but with an I?) Of course, if I watched the television series (it's on Hulu), I'd have the answer already.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Library Quotes

Small child in the picture book room: Where's *insert the children's librarian's name here* Hey!
Coworker: Should we tell her *children's librarian* went home?
Me: Nah, she'll figure it out. It's the Suzuki method.
Coworker: Tell me again why you're not going to grad school.

A patron: well, my eyes are going, but I only need to see hot men and large print books. 

Coworker: So, you read about serial killers and things. Do you have, like, a favorite serial killer?
Me: Not really
Coworker is visibly relieved. 
Coworker: Well,  is there one you read about more than the others?
Me: What, for pointers? No.

Coworker: Do you have any gum?
Me:  Yeah, it's on my shelf under the Titanic.
Coworker: Because where else would it be.
Me: It's Dentyne Ice, isn't it?

Me: Hey, if you Google Maps "Sedan Crater" you can see the nuclear bomb craters at the Nevada Test Site!
Coworker: What is wrong with you?

View Larger Map

 Male Coworker: I'm surprised you haven't killed like, fourteen people by now.
Me: What, me personally, or the two of us?
Male Coworker: You personally.

Coworker to me: I'm surprised you don't know how to hotwire a car.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Pennies from Heaven

Most people in creative fields have stock in inspiration. We're fond of that "ah-ha!" moment of epiphany, we carefully cradle our everyday creative spark, we pan for ideas the way  prospectors sought gold.

Of course, you can never predict when an idea might strike. Or how many ideas will strike in a given time period (or how few). You never know if a story thread will peter out or hit paydirt. You never know when your brilliant idea will be tarnished by the doubt of others. There are times for everybody, I'm sure, when they share a kernel of a thought that they're quite excited about with somebody, only to be diminished when they don't see that same joy in the other person's face.

I had a particularly rich vein of ideas when I was sick recently. I also frequently get them from dreams of the non-fevered variety. I get them from the news. I get them from some outside stimuli striking lightning in my brain stew. Or whatever. A muse? Maybe. I would have thought I'm too antisocial for one.

The point being, sometimes ideas seem like gifts.

I'm bad at writing thank you notes, but I wish I knew who to send this one to. 

Friday, March 1, 2013

Nuclear Accidents (I can't be the only one interested)

A few years back, in the nascent stages of my nuclear paranoia and layman's research into the topic of the history of both bombs and reactors, I read Atomic Harvest: Hanford and the Lethal Toll of America's Arsenal, by Michal D'Antonio. Hanford is one of the nuclear sites that enriched plutonium for the Trinity test, Fat Man and Little Boy, back in World War II.

Imagine my surprise to see in the news an article about six containment vessels leaking at a site in Washington state. At Hanford, of course, which is (I believe) known as America's most contaminated nuclear site. "Surprise" being subjective, of course. Considering some of the things in Atomic Harvest, I'd known that employees became pretty lax when it came to safety standards, even when personal safety was the issue. I'd known that they used little red Goddamn wagons to transport plutonium discs around the site. I'd known that when people are around dangerous things, they acclimate, and they become reckless in the outsider's eyes. Familiarity breeds contempt, so the saying goes, though I'm sure that's not what whoever said that meant. It makes good enough sense in my context here. So, for the Department of Energy to  “not adequately analyze data it had that would have shown the other tanks that are leaking.” (per the above linked New York Times article) at the Hanford site....well, that doesn't surprise me. Our nuclear history is riddled with such casual Goddamn negligence. That, and why is the DOE looking at that at all? Why isn't the Nuclear Regulatory Commission? Would it have made the difference?