some of the spoils from a recent (and much relished) spate of schizophrenic reading...
from The Company of Writers by Hilma Wolitzer, a quick example of what happens when you put a bunch of writers together:
I remember trying to compose a round-robin story with a bunch of writers at Bread Loaf one evening. It was supposed to be a sort of party game, but writers are always serious, to some extent, about writing. We were each allowed to contribute one word at a time, but no one wanted to waste his or her turn on something as insignificant as "the" or "a" or "and," so the "story" ended up being a compendium of fancy words that didn't make any sense at all.
from Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris, in one of his side-splitters about living and (not) learning French in Paris -- this is when he is in a classroom-full of equally French-impaired peers, all of whom (as with any language class) are failing miserably to communicate in a language they don't quite speak:
It was my second month of French class, and the teacher was leading us in an exercise designed to promote the use of one, our latest personal pronoun.
"And what does one do on Easter? Would anyone like to tell us?"
The Italian nanny was attempting to answer the teacher's latest question when the Moroccan student interrupted, shouting, "Excuse me, but what's an Easter?"
It would seem that despite having grown up in a Muslim country, she would have heard it mentioned once or twice, but no. "I mean it," she said. "I have no idea what you people are talking about."
The teacher called upon the rest of us to explain.
The Poles led the charge to the best of their ability. "It is," said one, "a party for the little boy of God who call his self Jesus and . . . oh, shit."
She faltered, and her fellow countryman came to her aid.
"He call his self Jesus, and then he be die one day on two . . . morsels of . . . lumber."
The rest of the class jumped in, offering bits of information that would have given the pope an aneurysm.
"He die one day, and then he go above of my head to live with your father."
"He weared the long hair, and after he died, the first day he come back here for to say hello to the peoples."
"He nice, the Jesus."
"He make the good things, and on the Easter we be sad because somebody makes him dead today."
Part of the problem had to do with grammar. Simple nouns such as cross and resurrection were beyond our grasp, let alone such complicated reflexive phrases as "To give of yourself your only begotten son." Faced with the challenge of explaining the cornerstone of Christianity, we did what any self-respecting group of people might do. We talked about food instead.
"Easter is a party for to eat of the lamb," the Italian nanny explained. "One, too, may eat of the chocolate."
"And who brings the chocolate?" the teacher asked.
I knew the word, and so I raised my hand, saying, "The Rabbit of Easter. He bring of the chocolate."
My classmates reacted as though I'd attributed the delivery to the Antichrist. They were mortified.
"A rabbit?" The teacher, assuming I'd used the wrong word, positioned her index fingers on top of her head, wiggling them as though they were ears. "You mean one of these? A rabbit rabbit?"
"Well, sure," I said. "He come in the night when one sleep on a bed. With a hand he have the basket and foods."
The teacher sadly shook her head, as if this explained everything that was wrong with my country. "No, no," she said. "Here in France the chocolate is brought by the big bell that flies in from Rome."
I called for a time-out. "But how do the bell know where you live?"
"Well," she said, "how does a rabbit?"
It was a decent point, but at least a rabbit has eyes. That's a start. Rabbits move from place to place, while most bells can only go back and forth--and they can't even do that on their own power. On top of that, the Easter Bunny has character; he's someone you'd like to meet and shake hands with. A bell has all the personality of a cast-iron skillet. It's like saying that come Christmas, a magic dustpan flies in from the North Pole, led by eight flying cinder blocks. Who wants to stay up all night so they can see a bell? And why fly one in from Rome when they've got more bells than they know what to do with right here in Paris? That's the most implausible aspect of the whole story, as there's no way the bells of France would allow a foreign worker to fly in and take their jobs. That Roman bell would be lucky to get work cleaning up after a French bell's dog -and even then he'd need papers. It just didn't add up.
Nothing we said was of any help to the Moroccan student. A dead man with long hair supposedly living with her father, a leg of lamb served with palm fronds and chocolate. Confused and disgusted, she shrugged her massive shoulders and turned her attention back to the comic book she kept hidden beneath her binder. I wondered then if, without the language barrier, my classmates and I could have done a better job making sense of Christianity, an idea that sounds pretty far-fetched to begin with.
from Memoirs by Pablo Neruda, about when in 1923, he managed to publish his first book, Crepusculario:
...The critic Alone generously contributed the last pesos, which were gobbled up by my printer, and off I went into the street carrying my books on my shoulder, with holes in my shoes, but beside myself with joy.
My first book! I have always maintained that the writer's task has nothing to do with mystery or magic, and that the poet's, at least, must be a personal effort for the benefit of all. The closest thing to poetry is a loaf of bread or a ceramic dish or a piece of wood lovingly carved, even if by clumsy hands. And yet I don't believe any craftsman except the poet, still shaken by the confusion of his dreams, ever experiences the ecstasy produced only once in his life, by the first object his hands have created. It's a moment that will never come back. There will be many editions, more elaborate, more beautiful. His words will be poured into the glasses of other languages like a wine, to sing and spread its aroma to other places on this earth. But that moment when the first book appears with its ink fresh and its paper still crisp, that enchanted and ecstatic moment, with the sound of wings beating or the first flower opening on the conquered height, that moment comes only once in a poet's lifetime.
[Avenue Girouard, Montréal]
[sunday 26 november 2006 at 22:13:51] [¶]
this week i realized with a wry smile, that i have not managed IT projects for long enough to become the kind of person who says (in a quick, informal email to a co-worker): "good -- let me know if I can facilitate anything...".
i see the draw. to say "help" might be (mis)understood as meaning actual, unadulterated, unconditional, roll-up-your-sleeves, get-in-the-trenches help. facilitating is different. facilitating is when you help find someone *else* who can help. when you think about it, that's exactly what PMs do. so it's fine, really.
and yet. i think i'd prefer if i never become the kind of person, who says facilitate, in a quick, informal email to a co-worker.
this week the commuting-carry-round book-of-choice has been the 2005 edition of The Best American Poetry (yay for Zainab).
and almost every morning -- whether it's by the time i get on the train or by the time i get off it -- i find that i have hit a home run: i find at least one page, one clutch of words, or just one line -- that makes the morning mine. that works like rose-tinted glasses (except some days they're turquoise-tinted, and some days they're celeste, and some days they're blue and bottle-green with flecks of mica). almost every morning, i find a shiny pebble for my pocket, a way to look out from within a core that is suddenly a little bit lighter:
Outside the moon gazed upon the earth with wary ardor;
the church cast its shadow upon the plaza
like a triangle and square
in a troubling geometry problem....
And in the houses and the neighborhoods, it's distressing to report,
there was no one sleeping. There was no one sleeping
who did not dream of being touched.
----- from In a Quiet Town by the Sea, by Tony Hoagland.
----- first published in The Cincinnati Review.
this week i got invited to the Gilbane Conference on Content Technologies in Boston -- thank you, Scott Abel! this week i also discovered that there is no train line between Montreal and Beantown. who would have thought i'd miss Trenitalia -- but no, let's not go there. maybe i will use the seven-hour bus ride, to write about the intersection of technology, content management, and IA. maybe not.
this week i feel like i can finally link to The American. where you can download the November issue. and start reading at page 12.
(she says shamelessly.)
this week was thanksgiving in the States. i tried to make a list.
but again. let's not go there.
[Avenue Girouard, Montréal]
[friday 24 november 2006 at 23:31:21] [¶]
...and "a new magazine on youth culture in London":
if i could fly you know where i would go, right this minute (or maybe, right this minute after i'd grabbed my favorite scarf, a notebook, and my Pago-Bancomat).
i would go to Ai Tre Scalini on Via Panisperna, or Enoteca D'Orio on Regina Margherita, or Cavatappi on Via Roma, or even the foxden at Piazza dei Rossi.
it's almost seven o'clock in all of those places -- perfect for a glassful of red and a table full of friends.
it wouldn't matter, if they took a while to get there.
i would wait.
if i could fly i'd go to the Mercato Trionfale on Via Doria every Saturday morning, instead of the IGA at Place Alexis Nihon on Atwater.
i'd pick out my parmigiano for the week, and maybe some lardo di colonnata for ravioli alla Rocca in the evening, and whatever happens to be in season -- pumpkins or puntarelle, artichokes or asparagus -- it wouldn't matter.
i would buy a porchetta sandwich from the old man on the corner of Via Doria and Via Santamaura, not just because he yells all morning with gusto "Venite ragazzi che c'è la porchetta più buona del mondo...". but also because he always remembers that i like extra extra crunch on mine ("lo so che ti piace la parte croccante").
if i could fly i would go see my grandmother in Karachi. and -- because i would tell myself that i'd fly back to see her again tomorrow -- i wouldn't really have to say goodbye.
if i could fly i'd be some place warmer.
[Avenue Girouard, Montréal]
[friday 10 november 2006 at 10:43:08] [¶]
why am i so quickly, completely and categorically annoyed by people who speak disparagingly about something that i've already made clear i kind of like? like uh, maybe by having actually *chosen* it all of three seconds before they decide to comment on how lame they think it is?
or by people who think they know everything?
why does it bother me to my core, to the point where i can't get on with my afternoon without having the scene repeat on me like a bad Australian wine?
huh. probably because i'm normal.
[Rue Saint-Alexandre, Montréal]
[thursday 09 november 2006 at 16:53:58] [¶]
it's a little like folding a shirt: undramatic, and matter-of-fact.
that's the way i feel, some nights.
undramatic, and matter-of-fact: in the way in which i want to strip away at my innards.
nights like this one. when i am alone and somewhere along the childish line between superficial/buyable happiness; and pristine misery. not even really missing the someone who was once very incredibly important. just wondering.
about why we give up (and give up on) the things and the places and the people that are so important. why, when the only reasons there are, have nothing (absolutely nothing), to do with our own happiness.
[Avenue Girouard, Montréal]
[sunday 05 november 2006 at 01:01:37] [¶]