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Semi-random thoughts for the entire world to see.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

2 poems that kind of address what I gleaned from Shana's blog:





You




Half of me wants to be
Someone who I’m not
Tear a page from somewhere else
And write a different plot

Who would do that, I must ask
Escape who they’ve become
Life’s added up all these parts
To equal you, the sum

But who’s to say! You might try
To deconstruct your days
Annihilate what you hate
And recreate the maze

You are you, must I remind
There is no plain escape
It is life, firm and true
And you cannot reshape



Deny the pain as you may yearn
A lesson’s taught to you
For when you try to flee yourself
You only blur your view




Love Song

There are few things which I desire more
Than the countour of your face
Few things I know so well
As the color of your eyes
Sometimes I pretend to read you
But realize I don’t know
Nonetheless I want you
Want to be you
I know you more than the mirror does
I trace your face with my hands
Even your cheeks are confident
Your eyes are burning
Do they burn for me?
We are the greatest team
A worthy partnership, we are each other
And we are in love
But if you are me
And I am you
Then who could my lover be?
The answer to that uncertainty
My only love is me.


This is in response to Shana's blog about YOU and I...I wrote a poem earlier in the semester for class that I will post on my blog because it kind of lays out my struggle with this exact thing. http://mainestuff.blogspot.com/ I think this should paste to Shana's blog but technology hates me so don't take my word for it...read it for yourself!

I'll summarize quickly if you're lazy. Shana basically blogged about how she could simply not write unless she was writing about "I" or "you." Shana makes clear that this does not always, or necessarily ever, mean that her "I" is truly herself...I can be a he or she deep in the recesses of her mind. I guess an easier way of saying that is she always writes in first or second person.

Reading this entry catalysized a tremendous insecurity in my own writing. Unless I am writing about myself, from strict person experience, how do I know that my characters hold any weight? Do their emotions have any signficance? Can people empathize with them? Then I began to wonder if all writers, even the good ones, suffer this same paranoia...maybe no one knows they're any good at anything until someone validates it. Every time I write in the 3rd person, or attempt to remove myself from my writing by creating some fictional place or story or character, it is inevitably infused with me. So to answer Shana's blog, in a way, I think no matter what, you can't escape yourself. When I revised my piece "The Coast," which i workshopped in class, I tried changing the perspective from 1st to 3rd person. This attempt was to simulate a shift from internal expression to an "observation" of what I was feeling from an external stance...kind of omniscient almost. I still haven't decided what piece is more successful, but I really think it lost some of it's vigor when I sucked the "I" out of it...in more ways than one.

So i guess what I've decided is it's really impossible to take you out of your writing. The reason you struggle with it Shana is because you're supposed to struggle with it. It all goes back to that discussion we had in class, about whether our writing is simply processed information or some kind of spiritual "matter" that can't be quantified. There is a new Sean Penn movie, 21 grams, which kind of addresses the question of the human spirit...our body weight over and above our organs and fluid...what actually exists.

Well, keep writing even if it's selfish. At worst case scenario, if we are simply rehashing the inputs to produce some kind of "revised output," that's still different than how it entered us. Which means you effectively "affected" something or someone. Awesome.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Review: Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies

Jhumpa Lahiri is no doubt a powerful, important writer. Her first published collection of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies, has been heralded by most critics as a distinctive and influential contribution to the American literary dialogue. Her debut work was awarded the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, an unprecedented and controversial distinction for an emerging writer. Interpreter of Maladies is indeed a groundbreaking collection, in that it examines the immigrant experience in modern day America. Its unique praise, however, forces one to ponder the basis for Lahiri’s acclaim. One might contend that her position as a young, female Indian-American has garnered more applause than her actual literary talent.

I have chosen to focus on the title story of Lahiri’s collection, accordingly named Interpreter of Maladies. Chronicling the visit of an Indian-American family to their native country, Interpreter of Maladies is an analysis of both assimilation, unrequited love and the potent storytelling technique of the anonymous confession. The Das family, husband, wife and their three children are familiar strangers to India, having been raised in the United States by Indian parents. They represent a new generation of Americans, one that does not differentiate between cultural variations but rather embraces America as a melting pot and an acquired, almost superior culture. To their hired driver, Mr. Kapasi, this air of Americanism is palpable, and runs through the story with both clandestine and observable influence. The nuances of both cultures are presented with an eye towards subtle comedy, akin to the classic humor of “the misunderstanding.” Lahiri is sensitive to this, and uses both the cultural gap and its implications to her advantage.

Lahiri’s most estimable skill is her prose, which is as translucent as it is effective. She fails where so many average writers succeed; she does not complicate her characters emotions with language or example. Her words and carefully chosen details stand convincingly without gratuitous description. In Interpreter of Maladies, Lahiri’s proposition is both believable and sympathetic. As a reader, I am able to comprehend the stakes of Kapasi’s unanswered infatuation and Mrs. Das’ desperate admission. The continental divide only amplifies the tacit longings of Lahiri’s characters. Her candor and her almost mathematical construction of emotion render this work substantial.

So why, might you ask, do I question Lahiri’s praise and ability? Interpreter of Maladies is almost too timely, and Lahiri’s acclaim too great for a writer of only one published work. It should not be inferred that such merits were only bestowed due Lahiri’s gender or race, however it is arguable that such traits accelerated her rise to literary prominence. At the date of publication, the world was eager to find a voice for a new generation of Americans. Additionally, global unrest and cultural warfare make her stories more salient than they might have been ten years ago. Such conditions may have intensified the acceptance and quelled the criticism of this work. Even the reviews the publisher has chosen to include on the reverse cover seem myopic and biased, submitted without fail by non-white women.

In this day in age, it is complicated and inherently unfair to assign or discredit talent based on race or gender. Many would decry my interpretation of Lahiri’s critical acclaim, arguing that it could be regressively applied to any great writer. After all, F. Scott Fitzgerald might have been neglected if he had written as a black woman. It is a mere speculation which leads me to question Lahiri’s instant literary genius.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

I wonder if I subconciously always have an audience in mind when I sit down to write. It's never something I've thought about, who I am writing for---because I've always believed writing to be somewhat organic---inspired by something which cannot be custom tailored to an audience.

My main audience is probably people around my age, in similar positions. I do not seek to reach out to people that would not understand---there are some basic things which we must agree upon before an attempt is made. Perhaps that means that my writing is not universal and therefore not good, but I think I'd beg to differ, at least conceptually. I think writing can have prerequisites, essential information a reader must know before digging in. Otherwise, it has little context or depth. My favorite (and most recent) example of this was in our class, when we discussed the connotations of setting a story in the South. We mentioned that the South is the only part of the US which has ever seen invasion and conquering, at least since the revolution. This little piece of information, this general setting, therefore brings with it so much additional, relevant and perhaps representative information.

I guess that's not so much about the audience, however. For now, I am going to say my audience is whoever I can get to read my work---no, that's kind of just a joke. But really, someone who can understand where I'm going, who is jarred, who is moved, who wants to read more. I guess that person would be someone who has experienced these same emotions. Vague answer, but you see what I'm going for??

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Haas' A Story About the Body is a very brief, bizarre, disturbing piece. I would compare it to one of those paintings made entirely of one color, with maybe a stripe or square in the center of the monotonous canvas. To some it's art, but to others, it's just paint. Haas' story forces us to consider our own faults, such as shallowness, materialism and the origin of love.

I walk away from A Story about the Body feeling unfulfilled. Although its enigmatic qualities make for an interesting piece, the characters are too distant to evoke any empathy. The piece is more poetry than prose, and the pace is perhaps its best quality. There is a very staccato beat; the events are abrupt and followed by another of equal length and magnitude. This structure gives the story an identifiable pulse, making the ridiculous events seem almost logical and expected.

My general reaction is one of ambivalence. On one level, I respect what Haas is able to do in such a short piece; he succeeds in crafting a rather poignant moment. The bees, however, are almost too vague and mysterious. We could run with them and hypothesize about exactly what they mean. In the end, I am just lost and kind of bothered. The taste in my mouth is unidentifiable...I'm not sure I want to taste it again.
Julie Orringer Reaction

There is something in Julie Orringer's writing that carves a very clear path to my subconscious. Perhaps it is her gentle, something-lurking-beneath-the-surface-prose, or her religious allusions which are all too familiar in my own life. As she read a story from her newly-published collection, I couldn't help but relate her peculiar experiences to my own. The most fascinating thing about her work is its subtlety, the way she allows seemingly insignificant events to become telling illlustrations of life. Her writing is clear and uncomplicated but very visual; the experience is something between reading and admiring.

The story Julie read, about discovering a sexual book in the context of a very Orthodox summer enclave, seems like hardly a story on first glance. Perhaps Julies talent is her ability to make a convincing story out of that moment, and to extrapolate the experience into a narrative on a young girl grappling with sexuality, faith and tradition. Julies protaganist, a seemingly autobiographical reflection, is a convincing character. She is torn between her own growing self-identity and that which the world wants her to become. The conflict between the two extremes of Judaism is palpable.

I am very curious to follow Julie's career. I haven't formed a litmus test to judge these young authors, so I can only base my opinion on what I felt listening to her read. I am contemplating purchasing her book as a present for my mother, who would greatly enjoy the tribulations shared by every Jewish mother growing up in a world of contradictions.

Monday, November 10, 2003

bedroom scene


It was from his collection of things that I knew Ryan was a crier. Something about the careful organization of his belongings, most of which were trivial souvenirs from random towns he had stopped in for a cheeseburger or gas or maybe even a blowjob. His shelves, which his room did not lack, were burdened with heavy trinkets. Most had indefinite or multiple uses, or perhaps none at all. The windows were sealed by some sloppily lain white paint, and the room suffocated in a warm, dense haze.

The back of his door bore a jaundiced sombrero, with spokes of hay jetting haphazardly everywhere. I hadn’t known that Ryan had been to Mexico, but it looked authentic so perhaps he hadn’t told me. There was a dusty humidor, maybe an errant purchase or an heirloom or a purchase intended to become an heirloom. Regardless, the humidor was heaving with sun-speckled dust, some kind of arcane thing that I couldn’t place in his personality.

Then there was a bed. A man spends most of his time in his bed, I might guess. Ryan’s was peculiarly unmade, almost intentionally. The pillows were aligned at right angles but the comforter rose and fell in the most discordant manner, reminding me of those horror films where the protagonist might find a decaying body or might find just a pocket of air in that suggestive mass of bedding. I knew Ryan’s to be empty, but disturbing nonetheless.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Anyone who has ever crossed my path knows I am a hometown fanatic. I hail from Providence, Rhode Island, a crooked industrial town-cum-yuppie artist tourist haven. It's the kind of town that gets under your fingernails; you've got no choice but to walk around with a little piece of dirty old Providence for all the world to see. But therein lies the beauty--Providence is both a fairly major east coast city and a small ethnic town ruled by boss politics, a corrupt band of Italians and Jews, and a Jewish-Italian-Gay Mayor to tie the whole thing together.

Providence is a collection of neighborhoods, but not in the traditional city sense. Unlike New York, Boston or Chicago, Providence's neighborhoods all bleed into each other with astounding ease. Visitors are usually caught off guard by how quickly the most affluent part of town (the east side) turns into a disarming quasi-ghetto, then reverts back to a vibrant italian enclave and then into a latin quarter. in the middle of all these opposing ethnicities is "downcity," as the innovative (or ignorant, you choose) natives, have coined it. and that's providence...200,000 people shoved into a few square miles, forced to live amongst and cope with even the most personally repugnant aliens, felons or otherwise.

the part of providence i come from, the ivy-festooned, cobblestoned, edgar-allan-poe-once-wrote-here part, is kind of different. it's something like Beacon Hill with more of an edge, a spike of artistic heroin infused by the very creative, very liberal university students. the clash that is providence is apparent here as well...you have your ultra-WASPY prep schools (my high school, for example) just opposite to the city's most "challenged" public school, a place where knife fights and teen pregnancy are just as common as harkness discussions and brooks brothers across the street. the artery that separates them is hope street (ironic, huh?) which becomes thayer, brown's hippy/jappy/eurotrash/any-other-classification-for-kids-with-money-who-either-want-it-to-be-crystalline-clear-or-exactly-the-opposite collegetown. whether you've come to thayer to buy seven jeans or crack cocaine, you're probably going to have a pretty high success rate.

so thats just where i went to school...down the street, in the "heart of the east side," lies this bizarre little community, something like long island-meets-greenwich-meets-typical affluent suburb. the strange thing here is a) you're still in the city of providence, one short mile from downtown, b) basically everyone is jewish or a mayflower descendent and everyone knows who you are, where your family comes from, what they do, where you pray, shop, eat, vacation and most likely what plot you will be buried in when you die (if you're lucky enough to be buried in swan point cemetary, that is). it's stiffling but not like conformist stiffling, because everyone is kind of fucked up and interesting and overall wealthy...all the ingredients for fantastic gossip and drug-dependent children. the thing is, it's not always like that. we go to good schools, get good jobs and ultimately can't resist the urge to come back and do it all over again. so that's providence; inescapable and entirely unpredictable.
Hmmm interesting realization brought about by this blog...despite the fact that I classify myself as a prose-man, have always enjoyed reading and writing prose, and have even been known to bash poetry a little (what is poetry? can't everyone write good poetry?), I find myself having only written poetry all semester. I suppose that means that this class thus far has been a learning experience...I have taken some of my academic insecurities and made them everyones business by writing and forcing everyone to listen in class. So despite the fact that I've written mainly poetry, I am going to describe my feelings about poetry since it is what I consider to be my literary weakness.

Poetry, like alot of visual art, is open to interpretation. Reading Pound is really no different than staring at a Pollock and scratching your head and asking yourself "Couldn't my 2 year old brother/pet german shepard/blind great grandmother do this?!?" It is probably easy to write decent, accidental poetry...the kind of stuff we see in high school and in alot of beginner english classes. That stuff skims the surface, plays with the most obvious level of emotion. Real poetry, GOOD poetry, like good art, has intention and has distinction...something that separates it, that evokes some kind of crazy catharsis or other emotional reaction that forces us to go inside ourselves and question everything and maybe even scream.

With that said, I bet i've written alot of that really shitty surface poetry...it's too easy, especially when nothing is provoking it other than a due date. if i can string together some flowery languge, throw in a few dark adjectives and make it sound alright, is that poetic?

i'll let you answer that based on my hints. anyway, i am really trying to make poetry, to take my feelings and put them into words with no fluffy excess...but i imagine that will take awhile and alot of practice, and also the ability to actually reach within and find what im feeling. so perhaps the best poetry can't be written for an english class, but just on the whim, a few words set to the tone of what we feel---and nothing more.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

There is a narrow alley between two buildings on lower Dryden Road. The alley is dark at noon every day when I slink past it on the way to my 12:20. Even the entrance is cobwebbed in shadows, erecting a foreboding screen to ward off any potential intruders. One can only imagine what lies at the far end of that alley, in the true and silent darkness. This is where the imagination machine begins to crank up, spewing out horrible intuitions and erecting phantoms from the shadows of the alley.

That is the beauty of mystery. One could argue that mystery is literatures closest attempt to guage life, which after all is one giant mystery. Each day we set out not without a predetermined destination--each day presents some kind of mystery, horrific or otherwise. Perhaps this is why we find fascination with mystery stories. They allow our imagination to run wild, to create its own ending. They allow literature to become alive and hands-on...a choose your own adventure if you are willing. The pleasure of mystery is its creativity.

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