Monday, May 18, 2009

Commitment, Courage

Dear blog, you have not heard from me in a while. I haven't been writing at all anymore, and I feel like it's something that I need to do. You see, in the end, it's a problem of commitment. I wish I were more creative, but it isn't that I've tried and failed. It's much worse--I haven't tried at all. It's a fear of commitment and intimacy, both of which have the potential for hurt and betrayal. Let's say I wanted to write a poem. Poetry terrifies me. First I would have to commit to a topic, to words, punctuation. These choices could not be distant from me; on the contrary, they would inevitably reveal something intimate. If I didn't like what I wrote--which seems inescapable now--my commitment would betray me. I would have attached myself to something personal that actually sucks, and be even more scared to try again.

So...what the fuck is wrong with me? I need to start something. This blog is one of those things. Before the summer is up, I should do something creative--maybe a short story, maybe a song. I can't be afraid anymore. Blog--I won't be a stranger!

Monday, November 10, 2008


In my idle days, I've been playing a lot of piano. I like to warm up with some easy but affective pieces, mostly Chopin Nocturnes or more recently Mazurkas. I'm not a Romanticist in literature, but I do love Romantic music. I'm starting to play a Brahms Intermezzo (A Major, Op. 118), but I have to be careful not to sight read the whole thing and then try to fine tune it. I'm impatient. I need to prevent myself from moving past the first section until it's solid, and start off hands separate. It's just so much more immediately satisfying to sight read through, but that's how one develops bad habits and awkward fingering. I have definitely done that with the Beethoven Pathetique Sonata--I started out just sight reading it because I love it, but I think it'll be hard to make it really good now because of that.

I love looking at sheet music. As the nerd that I am, I like listening to recorded music and following along with my score, making notes. I've been thinking a lot about structure and phrasing, and making sure that it's clear where phrases begin and end. Playing Chopin, I've been using a lot of rubato; I'm trying to resist messing about with time in Beethoven's slow movements. At least I have some liberty with all the ornaments.

What I love most about being able to play is that it's really a fundamental shift in my state of being: my normal everyday (prosaic) state and the instinctive conduit. It's not really an intellectual exercise, though I do have to make certain decisions before and re-evaluate after. My technique may not be perfect, but I am committed to respecting the spirit. It's important to have this sort of meditation, some arational experience--that's why many people pray. I suppose, then, that it's art that I worship. Too cheesy?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Election Post-Mortem

There's a video from The Onion that is funny but true: I feel like a huge part of my life is missing now that the election is over. Honestly, I feel fundamentally and essentially lonely, even though I have lots of friends, because I don't have the companionship of my research or work. I hope I start a job soon, because it's really driving me crazy to be so idle. I've been playing piano a lot and have started reading Ian McEwan's Saturday, but more on that in another entry.

I've always been interested in politics. In the Summer of 2007, I started noticing this Obama guy, the junior senator from Illinois, someone challenging Hillary's seemingly easy path to victory. By the time winter rolled around, I had already listened to the audiobooks of Dreams from my Father and The Audacity of Hope, which are really wonderful not just in their content but because Obama himself reads them (and won Grammys for his performance). I was especially moved by Dreams from my Father, because I felt a lot of personal connections with him. Our lives have been different in a lot of ways (I had two engaged parents, was relatively privileged), but we both lived in many places and often looked different than the people around us. I wish I had even a fraction of his discipline (and intelligence, but that may be too much to ask), but unfortunately I'm a hopeless dilettante.

Before the primaries started, it seemed clear that Obama was running in order to strengthen his national presence. However, once underway, Obama brought up all our hopes that he would win. Those early speeches are incredible, and not merely for their rhetorical prowess. Of course, Obama's race speech was the most significant--the first time a politician spoke to us as adults capable of processing nuance. When accused of being naive in wanting to talk to Iran and other hostile countries, Obama defended his position instead of backtracking; he used the same tactic with Reverend Wright. When I saw the complete videos of Wright, I really didn't think they were as controversial as anything people express on university campuses. It's true that it's not really what Wright said that is problematic, but his vision of America as static. Perhaps Obama is actually a Hegelian--the dialectic movement towards the more perfect union!

I don't dislike Hillary as many do, and she's been pretty good since her concession. It must have been hard for her, personally, to give up what once seemed to be a sure thing. Yet I do think all that shot drinking, gun talking, and of course limited knowledge of whether or not Obama is Muslim demonstrate how out-of-touch she was, and willing to compromise a coherent vision in order to win. This was much McCain's problem too: no central, focused message. And, of course, Sarah Palin...

Many "liberal intellectual elites" detest Sarah Palin, and it is easy to do so. What worries me is not so much her, but how she was allowed to grow into such a large role. I don't think intellectuals are necessarily better than others (though many are, see Obama), but active anti-intellectualism is frightening. Palin is also dangerously incurious. She seems like the anti-Obama: no nuance, inflexible, certain without reason, and mean! I think of her as Regina from Mean Girls, which is to say that of course she has a certain type of intelligence, but it's used primarily to manipulate, not to gain knowledge. At least Bush grew up with smart people around him...something must have gotten in there through osmosis.

The internet was the biggest factor in this election. John McCain doesn't know how to use a computer. While I watched MSNBC every night (Hardball, Countdown, and my favourite Rachel Maddow), I spent a lot of time on HuffPost, Slate, and many other websites. I really feel like the McCain campaign's lies would not have been so damaging to him if not for the internet. Much of what they said could be refuted with a simple google.

Election night I had some friends over and overdrank sparkling wine. It was a wonderful, historic night. My new favourite mascara, Chanel's Exceptionnel, had to be put aside in favour of some clumpy waterproof--better that than mascara down my face... It took me a few days to recover physically and clean the kitchen, but it was well worth it and I had a smile on my face the whole time. I am certain that Obama won't live up to the inflated expectations, but I think in his acceptance speech he tried to make them more realistic. Really, it's just wonderful that, besides having the first non-white president, America has a leader who is measured, nuanced, flexible, and wants to learn.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Love's Civil War: Elizabeth Bowen and Charles Ritchie, letters and diaries 1941-1973

My thesis on Elizabeth Bowen should have left me looking to read something unrelated, but _Love's Civil War_ was released the same day as I got my reader reports and I felt I had to start it right away. It did not disappoint. Ritchie describes Bowen in one of his first diaries entries about her:

"She is a witch, that's what it is. In the first place how can a woman of forty with gold bangles and the face of a woman of forty and the air of a don's wife, how can such a woman have such a body--like Donatello's David I told her when I first saw what it was like. Those small firm breasts, that modelled neck set with such beauty on her shoulders, that magnificent back [. . .]. Would I ever have fallen for her if it hadn't been for her books? I very much doubt it. But now I can't separate her from her literary self. It's as if the woman I 'love' were always accompanied by a companion spirit infinitely more exciting and more poetic and more profound than E herself."

It seems terribly intimate after a couple years of reading and researching a person to hear her lover's description of her. Her voice is so strong in her novels, literally authoritative, but many of her letters to Ritchie display an enormous vulnerability. I tend to stay away from biographical interpretations, but this really does give me greater insight. She writes that The House in Paris seems the most "screenworthy" of her novels: my chapter on that novel was called "Palimpsests and Portals: The Screen Aesthetic of The House in Paris." I felt vindicated. It was also illuminating to read about how she wrote, not only the process but also where and with what she surrounded herself. Much of her writing is about love and innocence; to see her in love, and hear her thoughts on her experiences, is a privilege. It's unearned but welcome.

I'm often quite cynical about love, but I want to believe in it. I feel like the kind of love between Bowen and Ritchie would perhaps not have survived marriage. In fact, it seems like the longest they were ever physically together was two weeks and as painful as those separations were they probably contributed to the longevity of the relationship. They are such strong personalities that it seems like clashes would have been inevitable. Charles had a good marriage with Sylvia because she accomodated him, and he could sleep with other women as he wished. Nevertheless, the fact that this love was sustained, that they had each other, that they were each the other's most important person, is a beautiful thing to try to know.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Election Countdown

I intend to write more regularly.

There's a lot to be worried about. A recent article in Time magazine outlines what could potentially go wrong on election day to prevent an Obama victory. Yet I'm trying to stay optimistic. He's up in all the polls with many paths to an electoral majority. McCain, on the other hand, doesn't really have a lot of probable permutations that amount to 270. I'm impressed with the Obama ground game too, since it seems like they're doing a good job getting people to vote early. And there's always Sarah Palin, who seems to have been chosen in order to sabotage the GOP. My mother told her friend who supports Palin that she thinks only stupid people like her. Then she apologized, but I'm sure it was clear that she actually did mean what she said. I think it's really great that she's standing up to her conservative friends :-)

I'm re-listening to the Audacity of Hope in anticipation of election day. Obama reads the audiobook, which makes it all the better. I'm also having an election party--yay!

Friday, September 19, 2008

It's Been A While

I haven't updated in a long time because I took a trip to Alberta at the end of July and then I was terribly busy the month of August finishing my thesis. I guess I got out of the habit of updating, but I'd like to get back into it. The last three weeks (since I submitted my thesis) have been kind of a blur; I've basically been alternating between sleeping, piano, and drinking. It's like being on vacation in my own home. I've been spending a lot of time following the election. It's like an addiction. I enthusiastically support Obama! We're having an election in Canada, and although it's also important, it's not as close and there isn't really the media circus of our American counterparts. I really don't want the Conservatives to get a majority; they're messing up the economy for one thing. My main issue is strengthening animal protection and appropriate consequences for abuse. I also care about the environment of course, and support a carbon tax. We'll see how it goes. I hope to update again soon and write more at length. Also, I bought a camera as my post-thesis present to myself so I'll try to post some pictures at some point.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Can you believe I wrote 7 pages today? Neither can I. But somehow I worked for 10 hours and wrote and wrote. I think this chapter will be the best one.

I have been playing piano a lot. I was thinking about how it's been a part of my life, and really my primary emotional outlet, but it's not like it naturally evolved somehow. It's not like a talent for singing or dance or writing, which require minimal training. With piano, I had to learn how to read music, and there's a lot of technique as well that you have to develop before you can use the instrument with enough proficiency that you're thinking about the music and not how to play the notes. So, I guess what I'm saying is that I'm really grateful to my parents for providing me with the opportunity to learn something that I'll use the rest of the my life. They're not musicians, no one in my family is, but they saw it as something from which I would benefit. I just wish I could have continued with lessons. Next goal: to recommence lessons and work towards getting my grade 10 and teaching certificate!