Friday, January 20, 2012

A Selection of Random Links

After Wednesday's blackout, it appears the interwebs are buzzing with interesting stories this morning. Or perhaps I should credit my friends' Friday procrastination instead; I've found all of these posted by my facebook and/or twitter colleagues. Regardless, because I've come across such a diverse array of interesting things this morning, I don't have a coherent idea to post about; instead, you get a smidgen of many different ideas.

So, in no particular order, I offer you:

A proposal to eliminate university tuition
-- With all the crazy shit that's happened at the UC schools recently, this is actually positive information. From the article, "On Wednesday, a group of students at UC Riverside presented a proposal to UC President Mark Yudof that would abolish tuition - and he’s actually considering it." The best thing about it, at least from this short article, is that the plan actually makes sense.

An indicator that I truly am old -- Nothing says "you're not a kid anymore" like the news that your favorite childhood movie is being remade. And now, The Princess Bride is the victim. I'll grant that this cast/director could be a lot worse, but still, they're messing with perfection and I am not pleased.
Comedy, satire, and politics -- and the hazy borders between them. Some of my former Penn State colleagues and I recently had a long, involved discussion on facebook about Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart and political satire. It started with this article, and then this one, which I'd read a few days before, and the link I started with addresses some of the issues we'd been discussing. I will say that I'm not 100% sold on Colbert in many ways, that I prefer Stewart's approach; but I also acknowledge that Colbert's recent "long-form journalism" (as this article calls it) re: campaign finance, super PACs, etc is pretty effective in showing a non-expert audience exactly how fucked up the system is.

Another serious-comic piece -- which I relate to all too well. Maybe is running out of ideas, but this one on "The 5 Stupidest Habits You Develop Growing Up Poor" is really on-point. I've had this conversation with a couple of friends of mine, one of whom grew up with less than I did (and I grew up firmly working class, if not "poor" exactly) and the other who grew up in a privileged suburb; the insidious effects of poverty are easy to under-estimate, especially for people who've never been there as well as those who've gotten past that income level. This piece, which is humorous in many places, does a great job of explaining some of them.

And a bit of bad news from India -- I adore Salman Rushdie. I first read him in high school, and my mother disapproved. I've read nearly all his books. I even used a quote from one of his essays as an epigraph for my MFA thesis. I follow him on Twitter. And I find it so ridiculous, and sad, that his life is still being threatened. This article is interesting as well in its discussion of literary festivals, and the question of what happens when these events (or any events) grow too big too fast. It also makes me both sad and relieved to be missing the AWP festival next month.

And I believe that's it for today. I need to get off the couch, run some errands, clean my apartment, and get ready to meet up with friends this evening where I get to hear about L's trip to Costa Rica. Yay! Have I mentioned how much I love my life?

Afterthought: in an effort to not be too "cheery," I'll also give you this morning's small stone:

the furnace works
for two solid hours
warming the morning rooms
enough to move
I don't get up until I can feel my nose

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Feeling Privileged

I went grocery shopping yesterday. I read labels, compared ingredients, did my best to choose healthy foods and beauty products that were not tested on animals. And I thought as I drove home that those kinds of consumer choices, as important as they may be, are not available to everyone, that being able to make those choices is a mark of economic privilege.

* * *

I feel lucky in so many ways these days. I love where I live. I love what I do. I have an amazing group of friends here in Columbus. I still have wonderful friends back in Pennsylvania. I have so much freedom in my schedule and in my life. I have time to write and to read and to work out and to cook.

* * *

I was out with friends the other night and I couldn't stop thinking how happy I am to be back in Columbus. I'd gone to a hockey game earlier (free tickets through a friend's boss), we walked from the arena up to the Short North, then went to a bar where we made friends with a bunch of girls dressed in 80's costumes for a birthday party. I was with a group of lesbians, some of whom were couples and being visibly affectionate; we were not at a gay bar, yet no one batted an eye.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Some Thoughts About the Drive Home

This quarter, I have a much shorter commute, though sometimes more frustrating. I don't have to get on the highway. I begin by driving out Bryden Road, past all the lovely old houses (some in good repair, others much less so). I jog up Nelson and then turn right on East Broad, where I stay for the next 10 miles or so: past the ornate houses in Bexley at first, then through a wilderness of strip malls in Whitehall, past the outerbelt, more strip malls, and then I arrive at the college, housed in a building that looks to me like an old bank, but used to be an event center (the ballroom still has a removable dance floor).

* * *

I spend a lot of time on my way to campus sitting at traffic lights. On my way home, I catch the majority of them green.

* * *

I sometimes think as I'm driving that this stretch of road is what gives Ohio a bad name -- the strip malls, the presence of almost every type of fast food imaginable. There are the typical ones: Taco Bells, McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King. There are two Tim Horton's, an Arby's, a KFC, a White Castle, a Skyline Chili. There are the faux ethnic options: two Mark Pi's, one Panda Express, a Chipotle (which I do love, in all honesty). There is pizza of multiple varieties, Subway, Penn Station, as well as two Bob Evans, an Applebees, a Tumbleweed, and two different chicken wing joints. It's disgusting sometimes to think about just how much bad food is available on that journey.

Because I'm teaching evening classes, I'm generally hungry when I leave campus at night, but I've made it my goal NOT to stop for food on the way home. Instead, last night I came back, boiled some udon noodles and tossed them with kimchi, thawed frozen spinach, soy sauce, a smidge of sugar, and sesame oil. It was delicious! Tonight I opened a can of vegetarian baked beans and heated up some leftover mashed potatos. Can't win them all, I guess.

* * *

The first couple of times I drove back, I almost missed the turn onto Nelson Road. This week, I realized that as soon as I can see the lights of downtown Columbus appear ahead of me, I need to make the next left. It makes perfect sense, and it makes me smile to make that connection, to feel like I'm coming back through the suburbs to where I really live.

* * *

And, finally, today's #smallstone

the lights that seem white

as I drive past them
darken to yellow
up ahead
leaning in to each other
a bell ringing gold

Friday, January 6, 2012

Book Report

Because I had a lot of free time over Winter Break, and because I've recently rediscovered the joys of my library card, I've been reading novels again. Being a grad student and then scrambling to teach three new classes this fall (well, two sections of one, and one section of another), I didn't get to read for pleasure a whole lot. But, I've read three novels recently, and I feel like discussing them.

The first one I read was Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. The novel was published in 1962, and it's set in the 50's. I can't say that I loved this book, but it was very interesting to read in its historical context. It made me curious about the recent movie adaptation -- how would the tone differ in a movie made in the 2000's? I haven't watched it yet, but I'm curious. The main thing I didn't care for in this book is a problem I have with so much "great" literary fiction, and that is the almost complete lack of sympathetic characters. Yes, I know people are flawed and life is difficult, and I'm not asking for a fairy tale story or perfect hero, but it's hard for me to engage with a story if I can't like, sympathize with, admire, or understand the humanity of the characters.

In terms of character, the second book was by far the best, in my opinion. Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell focuses on a teenaged girl in Michigan, a strange, flawed, fascinating character from beginning to end of the novel. In spite of the title's tone, the story here is harshly real, involving violence, drugs, and sex for many different reasons; in a word, it's about survival, about a girl finding a way to survive and eventually to live in her world. Margo, the main character, is a sympathetic personality in spite of her crimes; she evolves, struggles, wavers, runs away, and while the ending is not exactly wrapped up in a neat bow, she eventually finds a way to live. The rivers and their surroundings also play a key role in the story, which is something I love in a story. I was sad when I got to the end of the novel, wishing it could have been longer, and though it might resonate more for people in this part of the country, I think it's a novel that most readers would appreciate.

The third book I read yesterday, in one day. When I was in Cleveland a few weeks ago, two of my friends recommended Daughters of the North by Sarah Hall, which I think they'd recently read in book club. The novel is generally described as feminist dystopian fiction in the tradition of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale or P.D. James' The Children of Men (both novels I admire and enjoyed), and those are useful comparisons. I'm still thinking about the larger themes of the book in regards to violence and when/if it is necessary or right. This is an uncomfortable book in a lot of ways; the near-future economic collapse and resulting police state in Britain feels all too possible (yes, it's a British novel, and the vocabulary is very British, particularly the vocabulary Hall uses in describing the natural world - while I got a good picture of the place, I'm sure a native would have gotten a better, more specific one) and the women's violence is difficult to admire. Like I said, I'm still thinking about the themes, but in terms of writing, I felt that the narrator was a bit lacking in personality, and the structure felt a bit gimmicky (the sections are presented as retrieved police interview/confession recordings, some with "data lost" in convenient places). The story moves slowly for the first hundred or so pages, but it's a slim book, about 200 pages in total, and I read it in one day. In short, I'm glad my friends recommended it, but I found aspects of the writing disappointing and I'm still processing the larger implications of the story.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Small Stones

I decided yesterday to take part in the Small Stones challenge for January. You can read more about the idea here, but basically the challenge is to notice something and create a brief piece of writing that captures that moment of noticing, for each day in January. It's a way of being present and aware in our worlds, during a time of year in which I am inclined to hibernate in my apartment and bury myself in my faux fur-trimmed coat when I venture out. It's also a nice, low-pressure way to making myself writing something every day.

I'm doing mine on Twitter, as are many other people, using the hashtag #smallstone. I've also decided to tag a lot of mine #OTE (for Olde Towne East - my new neighborhood - which I'm still in the process of figuring out). If you want to follow me on Twitter, for this reason or any other, you can find me @emandermay. I like the Twitter form because it ensures brevity, but I'm setting my posts up with line breaks so I can add on to them later.

Anyway, enough explanation. Here are my first two small stones:

January 1st:

At 6am the new year
hangs quiet and soft,
last year's rain glimmering
like last night's sequins.

January 2nd:

The year's first snow
sifts down
light and tiny as sugar crystals
lining the roof's shingles
the alley's bricks.

I probably won't post all of them here since I'm doing them on Twitter. Now, back to the lesson planning. Classes start tomorrow.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A Delicious Start to the New Year

Rather than any sort of in-depth reflection on the year that was or an overly-ambitious list of resolutions for the coming year, I’ve decided to post today about my favorite New Year’s Day tradition. For many people of certain cultural backgrounds, pork and sauerkraut is the traditional meal on January 1st. My mother always made it, and I don’t remember if I ever liked it; but I don’t want to talk about pork and sauerkraut. Instead, I want to talk about Chinese food.

Yes, I said Chinese food. That’s my traditional New Year’s Day meal. It is, I think, the first holiday tradition I chose to follow as an adult, and one I’ve kept every year since January 2000.

For the infamous Y2K celebration, I was a senior in college. I was of course home for winter break but had decided to spend New Year’s Eve with friends in Columbus (this was a few years before I moved here myself). I have a very clear memory of eating a pre-party dinner at the Blue Danube (a dive bar around North Campus) and joking about how the world wasn’t ending as we watched the tvs above the bar show New Year’s celebrations in Europe where it was already the year 2000. We went to a party, or parties, and the world didn’t end in Ohio either.

The next day, New Year’s Day, my friend Laurynn and I woke up late and decided to go in search of lunch. We walked from her dingy campus area apartment on 11th Avenue—this was before the Gateway cleaned up South Campus—and set off up High Street thinking we’d have lots of options. Unfortunately, nothing was open because of the holiday. It was bitterly cold, or we were underdressed; I don’t remember which, just that we were freezing and hungry and a bit hungover (we were 21, give us a break). We walked all the way up to Woodruff and finally found a restaurant that was open: the decidedly unglamorous No. 1 Chinese. It is exactly what one might imagine from the name, and exactly like many other hole-in-the-wall greasy cheap Chinese joints. However, that day it was delicious! It was warm inside, and the spicy salty greasy stir-fry and the mountains of rice were the perfect antidote to all of the previous night’s beer.

I had Broccoli with Garlic Sauce, I think, or maybe Szechuan Broccoli. I remember the leftovers sitting in my car taunting me as I drove home that afternoon, the burgundy Grand Am I drove in those days smelling of soy sauce and garlic and chili oil. I ate them for dinner that evening, while my parents and siblings ate pork and sauerkraut.

While I probably could, if I tried hard enough, remember where I ate every New Year’s Day Chinese meal since then, I won’t bother. I know that I’ve eaten them with friends, roommates, partners, with my sister I think, and by myself. Some have been delicious (three years ago, my girlfriend at the time and I ate at Yau’s Chinese Bistro, just down the street from Laurynn’s old apartment, and one of my favorite Chinese spots in Columbus), some have been disappointing (a friend and I ended up getting Mark Pi’s one year), but at this point, it’s the tradition that counts.

So today, after a productive day of taking down Christmas decorations, cleaning up, going for a run, and relaxing, I drove up to Fortune Chinese Restaurant and I got Eggplant with Garlic Sauce and some Hot and Sour Soup, and I came home to my windy attic apartment, and I opened up a nice pale ale, and I thoroughly enjoyed my meal. It was spicy and well-cooked and filling, but even more satisfying is the knowledge that I have this tradition that’s all my own, and that I’ve kept it for twelve years now, no matter where I was living, and that I can share it with others without losing it myself.