the fate of objects

Nothing is more improbable or subject to chance than the fate of objects

Billie Dyer and Other Stories – William Maxwell

 

Downton Abbey does not sound like a show I would like. I am not a fan of period dramas; I’ve had enough of icy brunettes with mean streaks. I just finished reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s “The Remains of the Day” and it turns out, I am also not a fan of Great Britain in the early 20th century. Or, to be honest, I am just not interested in it.

But there’s a particular escapism in Downton Abbey that I enjoy. I enjoy escaping into a life in which the stakes seem low, but are actually impossibly high. I enjoy seeing the drama of gigantic problems and quiet solutions played out in soft, measured tones. I enjoy the calculations and the hard-hearted stoicism with which they face the unaccounted for incidents of life.

How do you ever know?

Preparation is just pretend. Nothing is more improbable than anything at all.

Billie Dyer kept a notebook. Billie Dyer, the African-American doctor from Kansas City by way of Lincoln, Illinois, kept a notebook that ended up in the hands of a curious Texan.

William Maxwell wrote a story. William Maxwell actually wrote a lot of stories. I read them and thought about aphorisms and why we write and who we hope will read.

I think we hope we’ll read it again someday. That we’ll pick it up and it will have a purpose outside of what it was. I think we hope for eternal life by way of notebooks and notes and write like a motherfucker aphorisms and quotes. I think we hope.

Nothing is more improbable or subject to chance than the whims of a nineteen-year-old carried out by a twenty-something-year old.

Will the object be gone tomorrow? Or venerated later today? I am almost always sure that there is a better course of action than the one I am on, or I’m almost always sure that I’m doing the right thing for me.

Who knows? Who could’ve guessed a Victorian mansion in the English countryside would experience it’s second wind by way of an ITV/Masterpiece Theater drama featuring English ladies in compromising positions with foreign dignitaries, blackmail, revolution, war, Dame Maggie Smith and Shirley Maclaine?

But then again, when I write it like that…

38.8403° N, 97.6111° W, or Salina

Everything is the same.

The girls’ locker room with the automatic light that only comes on seconds after waving your arm in front of it.

My name, written in shitty cursive, calling out to the Class of 2008 from the underside of a bright blue support beam. Other names etched into decade old dust. Tara from the Class of 2002. Kendra from the Class of 2007. We were all that young once. I want to write a thank you note to the janitors that never visit here. I want to write it in the dust and see how long it lasts.

Posters defining courage and integrity and excellence still decorate the hallway. Touchdown Jesus still has his arms raised and our senior pictures still hang in thick plastic sheets across the hall from him and the storage space and development office.

Everything is the same.

It’s strange–strange enough to force us into classrooms to try to find our names in books older than we are. It’s strange enough to make us lose track of time as we scan their histories, dating from 1988 to 2011. It’s strange enough to make it a little more believable when we find our siblings, but never ourselves. But we look and we look and we look.

We look through stacks of Physics books, Grammar and Composition books. We don’t bother checking the Bibles but we check the weight room and then we realize that it’s all so perfectly familiar because it is the place. The place where, if not all, at least most of it happened. I want to sing “Oh, you are the roots that sleep beneath my feet” to the hallways and the classrooms and to that one teacher who kept her closet light on and her room covered in butterflies.

I want to say thank you, but mostly I want to say goodbye.

“There was this book I read and loved, the story of a ship

That sailed around the world and found that nothing else exists

Beyond his own two sails”

And mostly, I want to let go and move on and find a way to make a life that dares me to act, then asks me for my truth.

And what did you learn today, it will ask. And I will tell it all.

20120803-210305.jpg

Jesus Christ!

Jesus Christ was the original tortured artist.

That’s what Andrew Lloyd Webber was getting at, right?

When I was five, six or somewhere near that age between innocence and enlightenment/self-awareness (seven?) I wanted to be a doctor, a model (not for the looks thing but for the standing around thing and getting paid–I knew what was up even then) and then finally a storyteller.

My dad, who was a pilot, would come home after being away for an entire week and recount Aesop’s Fables to my brothers and I in the back yard—always making sure to change his voice for the various animals. I felt so connected to those stories and the art of storytelling. Later, when we moved to Salina, I would always make sure to visit the storytellers’ tents during the River Festival and I started telling my own stories.

Years later, it happened.

I started feeling anxiety over things that I would write. I wouldn’t want to share it or look at it or acknowledge it because I was sure it was all the worst. That I was The Worst. But I still felt compelled to write, which is how I knew I was doomed.

I prayed that my ambitions would be skewed, that I’d want to do something easier or simpler.

Give me a love of numbers or anatomy.
Give me a passion for laws and regulations.
Anything, ANYTHING!

But please don’t make me do this.

“I only want to say
If there is a way
Take this cup away from me
For I don’t want to taste its poison
Feel it burn me,
I have changed I’m not as sure
As when we started
Then I was inspired
Now I’m sad and tired
Listen surely I’ve exceeded
Expectations
Tried for three years
Seems like thirty
Could you ask as much
From any other man?”

My ambitions have stayed and like most things in the realm of love when it’s good there’s nothing better and when it’s bad I turn into a five year old and just want it to be good again and wah.

Which leads me to the present, where I have two versions of a short story minimized on my dash at work because I stayed up until I was too delirious to edit any of it last night because THAT IS HOW I COPE WITH BEING DOOMED/SCARED.

But Sunday morning and afternoon when I was sitting at my computer with the phone and wireless off and just writingwritingwriting? That made me deliriously, ceiling dancing happy. And I spent the rest of the day thinking about those characters and wanting to do more with them (and then being afraid of looking back at them, but I’m getting over it now). Everything else just feels like an obstacle to get over before I can do that again.

“Try not to get worried, try not to turn on to
Problems that upset you, oh.
Don’t you know
Everything’s alright, yes, everything’s fine.
And we want you to sleep well tonight.
Let the world turn without you tonight.
If we try, we’ll get by, so forget all about us tonight”

I am so doomed.

Which, I guess, is the whole point.

first world problemz and moon river

Can we pause the Internet for a second?

I just discovered that Gap has an online magazine (calm, down Gap, it’s a BLOG) and there’s this article I want to read from the LA Times that has a rundown of “The six festival films you’ll soon be hearing about” from Cannes and the last three pages of my final research paper of the semester are dying to be written (and need to be written by Thursday afternoon) and I haven’t read Neil Gaiman’s online journal (these people know they’re writing on BLOGS, right? It’s okay to say it) and so of course he’s posted one-million videos to watch and, and…

Eh, you know what? I’ll get to it eventually. Or, not (my money is on the “not”). I’m not even going to bother linking to that NPR article that deals with the idea that we can’t possibly see or read everything great that is out there. If you haven’t read it, do yourself a kindness and Google it. It’s worth the .3 seconds it takes to read.

Basically: there’s such a lot of world to see.

LIFE magazine just posted a photo gallery of Carla Bruni that I took the time to flip through this morning. It lead me to this question: why are French girls so cool? If anyone can let me know, that would be great. Tickets to France are non-refundable and if I’m going to Eat Pray Love there (it’s a verb now) I need to know that the cool thing is distinctly French and unable to be imitated in America (nice try though, Mischa Barton).

her failure was a useful preliminary to success

Last week I finished Edith Wharton’s 1920s investigation of changing cultural norms in The Custom of the Country. The protagonist, Undine Spragg, is a conspicuous consumer and a social climber with a prime spot for advancement in the changing landscape of 1920s New York, where the divide between old money and everyone else began to vanish as industrialization and extreme capitalism found their way into society.

The rows of girls and boys in my class dressed in such conspicuous brand names that they might as well be wearing dollar signs, quickly claimed their resentment of Undine. Her obsession with appearance is disgusting, they said. Her behavior is selfish and crass—why would Edith Wharton write such an awful character? They take her as a caricature and ignore their reflections in her words and actions.

I finish the five hundred page book quickly and I’m embarrassed to see myself at sixteen, eighteen and sometimes even now, as a reflection of parts of Undine. I think of ambition and how quickly it can ruin lives when unchecked. I think about my goals…

Last semester, during a random book sale on campus, I bought a copy of The Age of Innocence, Edith’s Pulitzer winning novel. I meant to read it that Spring, which turned into last summer and now I’ve set it in a longer, more realistic timeline.

That timeline simplifies everything and adds it as a task in my growing list of 43 Things.

The goal is this: I want to read Edith Wharton’s first twelve novels.

She wrote 22 novels but published multiple essays and collections of short stories. For now, this is a perfect starting point. I have Ethan Frome, The House of Mirth and The Age of innocence. I think I can knock out at least two of them by April.

1. The Touchstone, 1900

2. The Valley of Decision, 1902

3. Sanctuary, 1903

4. The House of Mirth, 1905

5. Madame de Treymes, 1907

6. The Fruit of the Tree, 1907

7. Ethan Frome, 1911

8. The Reef, 1912

9. The Custom of the Country, 1913

10. Summer, 1917

11. The Marne, 1918

12. The Age of Innocence, 1920

If you click the link above, you can find a list of 19 goals I’d like to accomplish. My number one goal? To find a REAL goal!

Two weeks ago, when I was feeling especially overwhelmed with my life and obligations, I met with a time management advisor who asked me to list at least three goals I had.

And man, why didn’t anyone tell me about that dunce cap I had been wearing for the past year? I had been goalless! I failed to reflect on anything that I was doing and I wasn’t moving towards anything. I have a few things listed on actual paper that I shared with the advisor and I’m getting there.

Here’s to another week of living. Celebrate it!

learnin’

It always feels like a bit of a luxury to be sitting in class, watching films that I wouldn’t normally take the time to see, or even think to see.

I saw Restrepo last summer when it became available on Instant Watch, and when my war obsession was at its peak. Specifically, I was into World War II. Voices in Wartime gave me a lot of insight into the soldier’s perspective and what it means to live and die for an ideal. I wish that sentence could lead to a beautiful tangent about life and death and what I learned but I put the book down for a week, then got a job and distracted and now GoodReads emails me every so often asking about my progress. On the bright side, because I tracked my page numbers on GoodReads I know where I stopped.

If you haven’t seen Restrepo, I would recommend it. Not only is the subject matter relevant (it follows a unit of soldiers in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley), it’s aesthetically and emotionally beautiful. As a sometimes resentful American (I’m only mean because I LOVE YOU, America!) I wrote the previous sentence with all the sincerity and cheese in the continental United States. I am not kidding with these sentiments: it is so moving to see what each of our lives’ mean through each of these soldiers’ lives.

And while I’m suggesting films from my documentary class, why not watch When We Were Kings!

As well as Frontline’s Law and Disorder special, which is available online and, boy, that’s a-whole-nother post about every human’s responsibility to every other feeling being and morality and teaching morality and yadda yadda yadda. How do we do that? Watch and let me know.

two years.

The Internet is my favorite time capsule.

I know that two years ago today I played in the snow and wrote down a list of things I wanted.

Days later, I vividly remember hearing the opening chords of John Mayer’s “Heart of Life” and scrambling to write down exactly how I felt about what the universe was trying to tell me.

I want to fully embrace the power and beauty of youth even when I don’t believe in it.

On birthdays in grade school, my music teacher would ask if we remembered to say thank you in the morning.

Thank you 20 for experience and beauty.

Thank you 20 for making the good days so vivid that it takes some straining to find the bad ones–and I never make the effort to do that.

Thank you 20 for a beautiful dog.

Thank you 20 for bookmarking those websites.

Thank you 20 for feeling like thirteen.

Thank you 20 for not being thirteen.

Thank you 20 for all that cheese (sentiments and smoked gouda).

Thank you 20 for saying yes.

Thank you 20 for five minutes until midnight.

Thank you 20 for all those people that I would choose over Zooey Deschanel as best friends (and I love Zooey Deschanel).

Thank you 20 for those solitary days I didn’t want and those solitary days that I did want.

Thank you 20 for this confession:

I was too afraid to share so many things with anyone because I was afraid of LCC and life and living and trying. In the past year I had a hard time dealing with me and I and constant introspection. I’ve been learning that it helps to work for others when that happens.

21, let’s keep learning.

21, let’s give bear hugs.

21, let’s forgive.

21, let’s read those books on my shelf and return library books on time (for the most part).

21, let’s forget.

21, let’s live like an Alannis Morisette song.

21, let’s give and get.

21, let’s mean it. Let’s say what we need to.

Thank you for reading, thank you for being a part of my year even when I was too scared to share it.

less than 100

Last year I wanted to get to one hundred thank yous but stopped at seventy.

This year I’m stopping at twenty-five and sharing most of my thank yous in real life.

Thank you to everyone who reads/scrolls/scans/casually checks in–I love you, I’m thankful for you.  Because if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around, does it make a sound?

Other thank yous, in no particular order:

  1. My mom and family members at home who are willing to make what’s theirs mine and mine theirs
  2. Two hour drives home
  3. Home
  4. Got dogs and office hours
  5. Good ideas and helpful committee members
  6. The entire 2010 Fall Semester, in all its almost-done glory
  7. Sunday night television dates
  8. Bethenny Frankel and SkinnyGirl margaritas
  9. Bravo
  10. The favorite button on Twitter (Jokes on Twitter)
  11. People who laugh at my jokes
  12. People who tell fantastic jokes
  13. Possibilities
  14. Time
  15. Jean-Luc Godard
  16. Bangs
  17. New music
  18. People and dogs who will dance with me
  19. Wonderful journeys
  20. Storytelling
  21. Screenplays and books available online
  22. People that inspire earthquakes, hearth fires, honesty and good intentions
  23. Basements
  24. The Simpsons
  25. Breaking the silence by reading something that makes me laugh out loud.

stellar.

As I mentioned in my last, totally calm, reasonable post, astronomy has been kicking my ass lately.

I chose this course to fulfill some BS science requirement because I thought there was something whimsical about the stars.

SPOILER ALERT: There isn’t.

BUT, I scored 6% higher than the median on the last exam, so ASTRONOMY CAN SUCK IT.

Incubus’s “Stellar” followed me through much of my adolescence and I totally blame them for my whimsical view of the stars/universe in general.

Meet me in outer space / We can spend the night / Watch the Earth come up

what’s your function?

A couple of weeks or months ago I read this article from 2008 wherein the writer worried that we (the American public) would be bombarded by cutesy Away We Go films in a post-Dubya America.

The writer said that movies decrying capitalism, the hopelessness of it all (see also: There Will Be Blood, No Country For Old Men) and were general pensive reflections on our society couldn’t possibly exist with our new “Yes We Can” hope.  We were supposed to be perfect, complete and dealing with less egregious first world problems.

We were supposed to have progressive characters like Maya Rudolph and John Krasinski (and I’m basing my entire character assumptions off the Away We Go trailer), with unkempt hair and surrounded by people who were so laid back they were horizontal (rimshot! Totally nailed it, right?).

Also shitty cars (see also: Nick and Norah’s…), cartoon block lettering (see also: Juno), so many quirks, hopehopehopehopehope, bright, sunshiney hope, people who were nice to each other and had the means to live exactly the way they wanted to live.  Happily.

And if we’re using movies as a reflection of our society, or even as an escape or ideal, those are good things to see.  We deserve happy endings, love and hope.  Also, we deserve cute!  For a while the world was pretty ugly from an American perspective (see also: 2001)

But our lives aren’t all sunshine, lollipops and Kimya Dawson.

We can do whatever we want.  We can succeed and work our hardest.  And then we can be George Clooney in Up in the Air: superb packers, stopping in to empty houses and take-out menus.  There, but just barely there.

I’m reading through the Up in the Air screenplay now and I can’t help but think that the writer of that article in 2008 was both right and wrong.

Yes, we’ve moved away from those hopeless tales but we’re still searching and that search can still lead us to dark places.

We’re certainly not hopeless, but the complexity of our lives doesn’t take on a new clarity with the change of a president or a shift in the House.  We’re all still coming of age and our metamorphosis will be just as painful/ugly/beautiful as it should.

Calm down, ‘Merica.  WE’RE NOT THERE YET!  Meaning: we don’t have this shit figured out.  I mean, were people honestly expecting cartoon block letters to start popping up in their life?

It’s like we’re on an episode of House but our symptoms are so ambiguous and Hugh Laurie never shows up to save the day and:

(although, honestly, it’s probably lupus, right?), and we’re just hoping so hard that it’s lupus so someone can give us the right drugs and make it perfect.

So we’re sitting, waiting, wishing and we’re afraid to reflect or really evaluate because –been there, done that, we want the world and we want it RIGHT NOW– so we find new symptoms, or problems, that we think can rush the diagnosis.

I mean, are we just going to be constantly stuck in this cycle of existential angst?  Or can we put in the Immaculate Collection and just dance?

I was ten when Dubya was first elected to office.  TEN!  I was still getting excited about having an age that required two numbers.  I literally knew shit about shit when it came to politics.  Madonna was singing for the Austin Powers soundtrack.

I realized the other day that a vast majority of my thinking or thoughtful life has been spent in a post-9/11 era.

I say thinking/thoughtful life, because sometime within those eight years I had a coming-of-age (of sorts) where I had to realize what it meant to be an American, to live where I live and what my future could hold.

I had flown on a plane once before 9/11.  I’m not sure I can tell you what an “orange alert” is, because that’s just normal to me.  We are fish and this is water.  Don’t ask me to describe it, it just is what it is and we’re existing in it.

And that’s weird because if you were born ten or even five years before me, you have that much more experience with, basically, everything.  You’ve seen decadence, the birth of grunge, the rebirth of the plain white tee as a statement, you’ve seen the Clueless generation, you’ve witnessed the growing dominance of technology and grown with it and so on and so forth, forever and ever, Amen.

And, you know, I guess I lost my point somewhere between “What’s your function?” and the generation gap that exists within ten years of living but Willow Smith has never existed at the same time as the Twin Towers and doesn’t even have Rugrats as a reference point to what the hell they are and isn’t that insane?

We’ve come a long way, but we’ve got a ways to go.  Forever.