Sunday, November 23, 2008

Thursday, November 6, 2008

hell yes. of course we can.

Tuesday night, at Jimmy’s, it felt like this. It was all jumping and yelling and crying and hugging and then me getting really drunk and emphatic about things. The crazy thing is: it still feels like that.

This morning, a man I don’t know greeted me on the street. People are friendly in the midwest. This happens a lot. But this time, he didn’t say “Hi.” He didn’t mumble “How’s it going?” He just looked right at me and said “Yes we can.”

My feelings are complicated, to be sure, by the defeat of Prop 8 in California. It breaks my heart in a way that's made all the more personally crushing for its resonance with my first political experiences, working (just barely unsuccessfully) to attempt to add GLBTQ folks to Maine's nondiscrimination law. But all the same, it feels good around here. Really, really good.

(And now I'm going to go back to your regularly scheduled never updating my blog ever.)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

it's not what's in your pants that counts

Sure, Sarah Palin makes Edna St. Vincent Millay look like Mary Wollstonecraft, but (despite having a vagina) she’s not really the vice-presidential candidate who matters when it comes to feminism. Joe Biden didn’t just vote for the Violence Against Women Act, he wrote it.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

one of the boys

Edna St. Vincent Millay never described herself as a feminist, and the truth is that she said some pretty awful things about her sex. That said, she let her husband handle the housekeeping, and she never shied away from anything just because it was considered unwomanly. Thanks to her undeniable poetic talent, her strikingly expressive voice, and her unusual beauty, she was able to live a life that was impossible for most women at the time. The darling of not just the literary community but the whole country, she was celebrated as much for her girlish appeal as for her strong and individual writing, but in truth it was the contrast between the two that made her so irresistible.

A lush and a womanizer, living off money borrowed from her publisher and cuckolding husband with a wide assortment of lovers, even moving out of her home to live with a poet many years her junior, she spent the last years of her life in a state we’d decry in a man. But there’s something all too appealing about a woman who embraces her vices, who grasps wholeheartedly all the privilege her talent and circumstances afford her, who lives, and it’s hard to phrase this any other way, like a man. She was a pretty and brilliant bad girl, the kind of character you can’t take your eyes off, equal parts seductive and heartbreaking.

Heartbreaking not just because her story ends in tragedy, not just because she dies beloved but broke, addicted to opiates and drink, but also because of the first two things I mentioned. Despite being an inspiration to many young women and a hardworking advocate for young, gifted poets, she didn’t learn from her own example. Or perhaps she simply didn’t want to admit the fact that her clothes were discussed as much as her books, or that her libertine ways helped feed the national fascination that helped sell those books. It’s all conjecture, of course, but it’s hard not to imagine that being the subject of such constant examination must have been exhausting, must have made her realize the contrast between coverage of her life and work and that of her contemporaries. But she, so daring, so flirtatious, so ahead of her time, and so direct in so much of her correspondence, never told the world that more was required of her simply because she was a woman.

If it’s not obvious, I just finished reading her biography. The year it came out, everyone and their sister gave me a copy, because apparently it was the perfect gift for me. Despite the near-unanimity of the gift, it took me a while to get around to reading it. Instead, I dutifully thanked them, returned the extra copies, and shelved one copy to read later. Seven years later, I finally read it, and though I’m not generally into biographies, it actually was a pretty damn good gift. If you don’t know me (and if that’s the case, seriously, what are you doing reading my blog? You’re probably the first.), you may not be aware how easy it is for me to identify with a pretty, young, outspoken poet who grew up in Maine and likes to cause trouble. But it’s very easy, and that’s why I’ll treat her life as both an inspiration and a cautionary tale. The moral: speak up. Even more.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

portland, portland, chicago

A city of books and bridges, roses and almost ripe tomatoes, turning from green to gold to orange to a bright sweet red I won’t get to see. I’m not (and if I’ve seen you in the past week, I’ve told you this) a crier, but Portland’s a hard city to leave, and it’s hard for me to tell if it’s worse this time than when I moved away from that other city with the same name, but I can tell this much: it’s wrenching.

It’s not just the people, nor the restaurants and shoe shops, the famous bookstore or my favorite grocery store; it’s not anything I can define or describe, just the last eight years of my life. But this isn’t really a personal blog, so I won’t go on for long. I’m reading Nicholson Baker, and he writes about himself in a way that’s more compelling than my own self-description could ever be. It makes me want to try, but I do think it’s dangerous to dip too far into that sort of blogging. It’s just not the kind of thing a girl like me ought to do.

Last time I was in Maine, I spent the night at a lakeside cottage, playing Scrabble and drinking wine and eating pasta tossed with olive oil and mushrooms gathered from the neighbors’ yard. In the morning, we swam in the lake between turns of a slow and lazy Scrabble game, and talked about local politics. At some point my hostess made passing reference to a friend of hers who lived nearby, a man she’d just seen at town meeting, her friend Nick Baker. And then she asked me if I’d ever read any of his stuff. I was so starstruck that I think I actually gasped. Audibly.

I realized less than halfway through the book I read before this one (Elizabeth Hand’s Saffron and Brimstone), that its author is from Maine, too. Though I do admit that sometimes, due to a perverse kind of home state pride, I seek out Maine writers, this was just a happy accident. I’d like to ascribe this to some kind of regional magic, some brilliance imbued upon Maine residents by the rocky coast and nasty weather, or some unconscious kinship that makes me pick these books by instinct, but I can’t. All I can say is that it is an indisputably nice thing. And maybe, a few years from now, I’ll find an abundance of Oregonians popping up on my bookshelf. It’s hard to say.

Monday, July 28, 2008

thirteenth september, nineteen forty

“In the case of liquor--the stuff doesn’t taste good, it has no real attraction whatever except for the oblivion which comes to those poor devils who do not have the guts to face their own reality. And the feeling afterwards is a little worse than anything you have experienced, once you have been properly “plastered” and develop a real honest-to-God hangover.”

My great-grandfather’s well-meaning warning didn’t work on his son, any better than his similar injunctions against smoking and sex did, at least in the long run. I suppose my grandfather may have made it through his years at Amherst unscathed by those delightful vices, but in truth, I doubt it. He wasn’t exactly the type to listen to that sort of warning. Plus, there’s a clear flaw in the premise: liquor tastes damn good.

But this is all digression. Packing up some old papers to move today, I came across this packed of letters, all from the fall of 1940 and spring of 1941, sent by my great-grandfather to my grandfather. So I started reading. After my old Hum notes they were fascinating, after the crazy lists an ex-boyfriend used to write for me in Genetics class, they were pretty dry. But plenty compelling either way, because even the most mundane questions gain a certain gravity in this particular context, and the personality conflicts are so clear from this distance.

The real morals here have, of course, nothing to do with drink or smoke or “very innocent-looking, sweetly appealing filthy harpies.” Instead, they are pretty simple: letters are worth saving, and fathers are always awkward about telling you how thrilled they are with you.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

poets laureate

Watching Kay Ryan talk, I get the sense our new poet laureate would be a lot of fun to hang out with.

There's also a video of Louise Gl├╝ck, which opens with her admitting to a problem that I share: the sense that because I want to do something, everyone else must want to do the same. Of course everyone wants to be a poet, because it is such a wonderful, fulfilling, necessary thing to be. Of course everyone wants to study the writers that I love, because they are so endlessly fascinating. I've gotten better about this over the last few years, to the point where I do recognize that there are people for whom the avant-garde holds no charm, who wouldn't want to spend all their time reading, and who even think i'm the nutty one. But it's still nice to hear someone I respect so much describe my problem so precisely.

Friday, June 20, 2008


I want to do this to everything I write from now on. Click the image to see it bigger and try it yourself.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

cover art

There are even more now. Always a sucker for interesting cover art, I was pretty much delighted when I found this collection of fake book covers a month or two ago (maybe via Maud Newton? I'm not sure), and am delighted again to have revisited it (via Bookslut this time, for sure) today.

Of course the covers are by turns gorgeous and silly and wonderful, but I think the thing I like most about them is the fact that they (by virtue of being imitations but not quite parodies or even derivative works) do such a wonderful job of illustrating and commenting on the conventions of cover art.

Only sort of related: There's nothing quite like finding a blog you love long after its owner has stopped updating. Judge a book is gorgeous, but I'm pretty sure it's over.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

the future is now

"Tang is futurist orange. Tang is orange designed by astronauts. Tang is from a time when we all thought we’d be wearing unitards and eating freeze-dried soy extrudate by now. Tang is Eisenhower food. It goes very well with jello salads and a scoop of cottage cheese on a lettuce leaf with a ring of pineapple. Tang represents that pure thought that food is safer and better for you if no part of it ever touches dirt."

That's from an email my mom sent me a while ago. That kind of brilliance is just one more reason that I'm entirely comfortable with the inevitable fact that I'm going to grow up someday and be just like my mother.

Friday, April 18, 2008

delightful things happen

I just (last night) finished reading Kelly Link's Stranger Things Happen, and, having fallen quite a bit in love with it, was thinking about ordering another of her books today, and investigating Small Beer Press a little further.

I hadn't gotten around to it yet when I found this link (on bookslut) to a free download of a whole book from Small Beer Press. Nicely timed, magic internets.

Also, it turns out you can download the Kelly Link book, too. And you should. Because it's excellent.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Yet another reason to love xkcd.

Found this on Feministe this morning, which is a lovely example of the way that all my favorite corners of the internet connect.

While reading through the post, I kept trying to think of major moneymaking films coming out in the next year that might reinforce or undermine the statistics. The only one I could think of off the top of my head (and I admit, I don't really follow mainstream movies) is the Sex and the City movie. And while I'm not really a fan of the show, it did make me pause and consider the fact that (despite its many, many flaws), it is pretty damn cool that a show primarily about the friendship between women was so successful and has spawned one of the year's most anticipated movies.

I'd like to think it's progress, but I'll wait to pass judgment until the thing is out. After all, there's probably still time for Hollywood to find a male lead to shoehorn into top billing.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

stop word

Governmental use of misleading language to obfuscate the available information isn't really news any more, I suppose. Still, this breaks my heart. When a search for "abortion" in a government-funded database devoted to information about reproductive health returns no results, something is wrong. And my problem here is not just the moral one, though that's, needless to say, large. It's also a problem of efficiency and design. They haven't removed the information, presumably in order to avoid being accused of censorship. But they have made it much, much harder to find.

Sure, you can search for "unwanted pregnancy" or, (as the representative from the database suggests) "Fertility Control, Postconception," but these are not the terms people use. A good search engine is responsive to both vernacular and specialized terms, providing results that allow the user to learn the more specialized terms as their research progresses. Now, to use POPLINE, you have to know in advance.

Turning to their handy "Keyword Guide" won't help you either, because Abortion, Abortion Law, and Abortion Rate are all still misleadingly listed as keywords.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

his name is my name, too.

The other day, one of my co-workers asked me to forge her husband's signature on a banking document. After all, he's all the way across town, and she'd do it, but my writing is slantier.

This is better.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

imagine me an aging spinster

Miss Blake
remembered, today
that she used to write poems
and it was good.

Monday, March 3, 2008

swoon (not like lovecraft in brooklyn)

I've been a little bit in love with Colson Whitehead ever since I read The Intuitionist, and only became more so after I saw him read at Wordstock. He's just really very good at what he does. Further proof appeared over the weekend, in his NYT article attempting to debunk all our generation's endlessly romantic myths about writing in Brooklyn.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

two days late

breaking the blog silence with a sad update: Alain Robbe-Grillet died on Monday.

more of substance soon, I promise.