Saturday, September 12, 2009

Who the hell's Lord Jim?

Here's what I did this weekend: took the practice GRE in the English Literature subject, promptly realized that there are white-whale sized gaps in my knowledge of said subject, wondered what the heck I studied in the BAZILLION English classes I took, then looked at my bookshelf and realized that I did in fact HAVE to read Measure for Measure... I just, uh, never did. I also saw that most of the books I kept from my English classes tend to fall under a certain category, namely, British sensation novels from the 19th century. Not that I'm biased or anything. Sure, I took American Identities 212. Did I read The Souls of Black Folk? No. Should I have? Yes, I'm starting to realize I should have, along with about a dozen other titles.

Maybe I wasn't that lazy, and I did actually get around to reading Old Man Du Bois between reruns of Jon & Kate Plus 8, but on top of it all, there is some stuff on that test that I either learned briefly and only peripherally, or simply never even knew existed. Drama, for example. Ibsen, TN Williams, Albee, O'Neill, etc. Never, not even in high school have I had to read The Glass Menagerie or even freakin' Raisin in the freakin' Sun. And I was in the "good" high school (though I think that was a "fact" made up to compensate for how bad we were at most sports). Poetry, too. I could be facing a firing squad, and all I could tell you about good old Yeats was that he was Irish and seemed to be keen on daffodils. All I could tell you about dumb old Longfellow is that he was boring and lame. Not really comprehensive knowledge, though.

What do I do about this whole thing, then, if I want to get into grad school, you ask? Wikipedia. I will wikipedia the crap out of William Carlos Williams, Sapphic verse (which is probably way less sexy than I imagine), Hedda Gabler, and all the other crap I've never even heard of or read, until my brains bleed tetrameter and I mutter about fourteeners (??) in my sleep. Maybe that's not really kosher, or even very smart, but I'm under a serious time crunch here. I'm trying to LEARN ALL OF ENGLISH LIT IN UNDER THREE WEEKS. I'm sure I'll be fine, though, yeah?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Rand Rant: skip if you value your brain

"A selfless man cannot be ethical."

This is from Ayn Rand's notes on her novel The Fountainhead, which I have been reading lately without the ability to determine whether it's the biggest crock of shit I've ever read, or one of the most insightful commentaries about American society (yes, American specifically, though Rand intended a more global subject) written in the 20th century.

The way I understand it, both through the novel and fail proof Wikipedia, Rand's philosophy of Objectivism celebrates exceptionality, capitalism, complete love of one's self, and rejects altruism, mediocrity, and collectivism (Rand ran for her life from the Soviet Union, so who can blame her?). It seems to boil down to the idea that there are only men of genius and those who feed off them and try to destroy them. Fine.

It doesn't take exceptional intellect to see where Rand probably fell in the American political spectrum, and honestly, who gives a shit? She's dead, and so is her following, for the most part. And anyway, anyone who paints humanity in such broad brush strokes and without any shades of gray has lost their claim to a valid argument. But I suppose that would support her point: that the essence of man (not of woman, by the way) is to be one extreme or the other, and to think there are exceptions is admitting that you're a pansy who is trying to excuse his own triviality.

Despite all this, I can't help but think that she may have a reasonable argument or two hidden in a pile of senseless, egotistical drivel.

Can a selfless man be truly ethical? Let's assume that ethics or morality are not relative to any one society, but are actually universal to all people. We will define "being ethical" as "doing the right thing" or "being good" (where "good" is doing the best to promote the highest quality of life for yourself and your fellow humans). The Fountainhead implies that a selfless man has no desire and no respect of self, thus no self at all. When one has no self, one isn't really making a "moral" sacrifice because there is no sacrifice. For a man to be truly good, he has to value himself first and know his own worth; he can help his fellow men by being the best that he can be.

I can't help but see the reason in that argument. After all, socialism bases itself on the faith that our fellow humans are all by nature selfless and loving creatures who deserve an equal slice of the collective pie -- total crap, unfortunately. There is value in the exceptional. The idea that all men are created equal is crap, too, though it may sound cynical. A shitty doctor is of less use than a great doctor, and thus should not make as much money. It is true, however, that all men (and women!) deserve an equal opportunity to reach the height of their potential and not be downtrodden or manipulated by other people.

I don't even know why I decided to write about this book, or start to argue for or against anything this woman has to say. Also, as I exhibited very plainly, I'm a fourth-rate philosopher. Maybe this is just my way of flexing my atrophied writing muscles. If so, I'm sorry. Next time, I'll give a third-rate account of the embroidery I started. I would certainly have more authority on that than on the definition of morality.

Friday, August 21, 2009

A box of mixed biscuits, a mixed biscuit box.

The limitless amount of time on my hands has been slowly chiseling out the following conclusion: I am a useless waste of space. No, no, it's true, I have been making a decent effort at looking for jobs, applying to at least one a day, but at a 16% national unemployment and underemployment rate (16%!!! It was around 25% during Ye Olde Grand Depression), it's getting harder and harder to stay optimistic. So, what's a gal to do to make her existence seem worthwhile? Getting back to basics. The four cardinals: cooking, knitting, cleaning, and yes, folks, darning. You'd be surprised at how many things a modern woman could darn.

I went down to the basement in search of my old crafts box, thinking I'd be lucky to find a few brushes and some fabric paint. Instead I discovered a bonanza of art supplies, knitting paraphernalia, glass paints, t-shirt print materials, an embroidery hoop, and a boatload of other crap I don't even remember buying. The bad news was that my knitting box proved to be a sex palace for moths, and I spent the better part of the evening salvaging my patterns, half-finished projects, and spools. Old moth cocoons may look like bits of dry leaves, but, uh, they're not. It's nasty.


Look, I could tell you about the knitted bag I am working on, but really, the reason I'm writing is because I desperately need to write. About anything. I've been feeling pretty gloomy about this writing dry spell, and as usual, when in search for answers, I turned to Google, and came across this passage by Maya Angelou:

"What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, 'Okay. Okay. I’ll come.'"

It's not a newsflash. I know all this. Persistence. Discipline. Not fussing over making it perfect. Slogging through quagmires of crap. We've all been through this before.

I'm going to try and write in this blog a minimum of five times a week. I'm going to stop feeling guilty for even needing a minimum. I'm going to let go of my expectations. I'm going to relax. I'm going to darn some more, and maybe write about it. I'm going to make eggs Benedict, calorie count be damned.

Mr. Brown is out of town, where the clown is upside down.
Mr. Brown is out of town, where the clown is upside down.
Mr. Brown is out of town, where the clown is upside down.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

New leaf, etc.

Though my time in Budapest is over, it's anything but forgotten, leaving many memories and habits in its wake. For instance, after six months of near-scurvy, I have an unquenchable, life-long addiction to fresh vegetables and fruits. I am also more appreciative of winter sunlight. I miss long, cross-Europe train rides terribly. I miss not depending on a car. I miss the absurd haircuts Hungarians give their children. I can manage perfectly without a dryer. Most importantly, I miss writing about amazing, new things on a daily -- er, semi-weekly? -- basis.

So here we are. A new blog. For an exciting new time in my life.

Things I did today, in no apparent order:

- over-plucked my eyebrows.
- read The Fountainhead. Ayn Rand is way more annoying than I remember.
- took a nap.
- applied for jobs.
- obsessively groomed the cat until he scratched his way out of my arms.
- cataloged all twenty-two of my DVDs.
- crunched the numbers of my budget for the 302420385th time to justify moving to Worcester, MA.

It's been a big day. Tomorrow: library trip.

Monday, July 21, 2008

King and Queen of the Pelicans we;
No other Birds so grand we see!
None but we have feet like fins!
With lovely leathery throats and chins!
Ploffskin, Pluffskin, Pelican jee!
We think no Birds so happy as we!
Plumpskin, Ploshkin, Pelican jill!
We think so then, and we thought so still!