Saturday, July 14, 2007

Time to Go

Tomorrow, Lizzie and I will hop on a plane and end up in Pittsburgh, PA, where Mom lives. We'll meet her and niece Abby, 4, who is staying with her for a few days while her mom, my sister, Erica, attends a veterinary conference in Washington, DC. Should be good times.

That is, as long as Lizzie and Abby manage to arrange a princess diva detante. Both of them are strong willed, imaginative only children who like to be the center of their own self created dramas. The rest of us are bit parts in the pagents of their lives. Last time we visited Erica and her family, last Christmas, Lizzie complained (after only an hour or two) that Abby was driving her crazy with her (then) 3-year-old demands. Suck it up, we told her. You don't remember how you were when you were that age, but we certainly do. And isn't payback a bitch?

This will be Abby's first time away from home without Mommy, too, so we need to be extra solicitous. "Let's go through all the books you have that you've outgrown and see if there are any princess numbers we can take with us to Grandma's," I suggested, casual, breezy, yesterday.

Lizzie shrugged. She hates to divest herself of anything. Even the wrappers from old suckers still litter her shelves--treasures, she proclaims. Once, when she was 5 or so, I found myself saying, "Lizzie, this scares me. This is not normal." But that's another story.

Today, I dredged up a Borders giftcard Erica gave me for that last Christmas in Boston and announced that we should go to the mall today and use it, get some books for the trip.

"Great," Lizzie said. "I'll get a Roald Dahl book and maybe we can get a few princess books as well."

Nice. Deft. That's a quality diva move there--spending MY giftcard on another princess because the original princess is too stingy or abnormal to get rid of her old books.

So tomorrow we fly off with our new books, whatever they happen to be, and two suitcases, and two carry ons, and the best of intentions. Wish us luck.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

What I Want

I have a burning need to write something here, to be in the middle of an imaginary conversation--no, scratch that, an imaginary lecture, where I am holding forth and you are listening with baited breath (whatever that means), nodding in all the right places, giving me a 100 watt smile, and once in a while leaning forward to grab my hands and give them a squeeze.

I have a burning need to be in the middle of this imaginary holding forth, and for there to be a bottle of wine--no, make that two bottles of red wine--on the table between us. I want this conversation to take place in Arizona, at a kitchen table, at the battered, round kitchen table in my old 4 room rented house on Santa Barbara, next to the window that overlooks the raggedy ass shed in front of the abandoned dog run. I want the baked weeds cracking the red brown dirt to overhear our sudden laughter. I want it to be the summer, to know that outside it's 112 degrees and inside, where we are, it's about 90, but it feels cool compared to the sizzle of the sun on our skin where there's no shade. I want to say, "Shit, living here is like living in a nuclear blast," and I want you to laugh and agree.

I want to gossip about people we know, critique their conversations, their hair cuts, their clothing, their style of interaction, their inability to sustain human relationships past the superficial level, their sociopathic love of ideas and distrust of emotions. I want to see and name all the ways in which we are superior to them and their petty, intellectual concerns. I want us to gaze into each other's eyes with the puffed up sense that we are, indeed, the chosen. That we are special. We belong to the world in a crucial and identifiable way.

I want to be 20-something, and poor, and maybe just married. Not pregnant yet, certainly. Still in the prime of my physical life. Let me be flush with health and desire. Give me a poem or two in the mental hopper. A great idea for a short story and the time to write it. Throw in the two cats, but make them, again, spend most of their time outside, stalking the birds dumb enough to light on the starved ornamental orange trees in the broken tubs outside the front windows. I'll take the two boy cats instead of the two girl cats of those long ago years--the boy cats are just more grateful for me. They run at me with feline glee lighting their eyes, they rub their faces all over my legs, all over my cheeks, they bump me from all angles, trying to get their scent into me. They remind me that I'm special, that they belong to me in a crucial and identifiable way. The girl cats never did that; they reminded me that I was tangential, but necessary. That I was a loud, large feeding machine.

Let's sit at the kitchen table and let me talk your ear off. Let me work myself up into an inspired rant. Let me make new combinations of metaphor and insult sing through my catalogue of real and imagined abuses in our petty academic world, where we agonize over essays on William Carlos Williams and Elizabeth Bishop while small time mobsters turn on the ignition in their Caddies and blow themselves sky high, right outside the Ventana Canyon resort. Let me go on and on about this small life with the fervor of a true believer in my reality, in my fleshy pleasures, while you smile and nod and laugh in all the right places.

Let me think about how much I love you, sitting there, across from me, and how much I love this life, all its promises, all its small and sometimes delicious pleasures, and disappointments, and half-finished projects, as the afternoon falls down and the light across the table turns red, then purple, and the ceiling fan ticks the minutes away, pushing cooler night air across our faces.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

New Purchases

Lizzie's new bed arrived today--a full size canopy bed. Only when we picked the bed in the store, it didn't have the canopy attached. It was just a handsome four poster dealie-o.

The WG&R men arrived at 8:45 in the 8-12 window and marched into Lizzie's cleared bedroom. We heard them muttering to each other while we played Othello in the dining room. Banging and a bit of clanging.

"Well," said the bearded one, a small man who reminded me of a bit part in a Shakespeare drama, all ferrety goodness, "it's going to be .... in there."

"Excuse me?"room without bed

"It's going to be a tight fit in there, a little snug," he said. "That dresser."

They were all done. Ferret-man whipped out a thick stack of papers. "You'll need to sign this."

I looked at the slot for my signature, next to the fine print: "I have examined my purchase and everything has been installed satisfactorily."

"I better go in there and make sure," I half-joked, "before I sign."

The bed sucks up all the available space in the small bedroom. The dresser, up against a corner, allows Lizzie only 3 inches between bed and drawers. "Ooo," I said. "We'll have to rearrange."

But what the ------? The bed looked just as it did in the showroom, with the addition of a fugly white metal arched canopy frame, one of the rods slightly bent. "It comes with a canopy?"

"Yep." The guy waved the stack of papers at me. "See? You paid for it."

Indeed. 60.00 for the fugly hardware. The four poster bed itself, even with the flower applique on headboard and footboard, could be considered tasteful. Topped with the empty metal canopy frame, however, it reminded me of the rickety daybed I put in my grad school apartment living room, pretending to have a couch. Whenever we sat on it, it jingled and clanked, saying "cheap," saying "low rent."

After the WG&R men left, Lizzie and I hopped into the car and tore over to Linens and More. Of course they'd have a canopy topper.

Nope--just mosquito netting on cheap plastic hula hoops.

Back home, I called WG&R to see about the situation. The man who sold us the furniture, JW, didn't pick up his extension. I dialed 0# to speak to a customer service operator. "Hm," he said, "I don't think we sell the beds with the tops themselves. Just the metal frames. Let me call the store."

I sat on hold for a while. "I can't get anyone to pick up at the store," he said, finally. "It must be busy today. We're having a sale. But my wife was looking for one of those and I think she found it at Shopko. Or Target."

"Thanks," I said, and called Target. They had one full sized canopy left for 24.95, a Hello Kitty number. Oooo, I said, please hold that for me.

Shopko didn't have anything but the mesh hula hoops, for 9.95, marked down from 34.95.

We drove to Target and visited Guest Services. No, the canopy wasn't there yet. We waited while someone ran it up from the back of the store.

Only to discover that it was a hula hoop mesh number with a gaudy circus tent action on top, festooned with Hello Kitty advertising. Bleah.

Thinking like Whiz Mom in a Pinch, I toured the curtain and sheet section with Lizzie. "Look," I said, "We could get some of these sheer curtains and drape them over the top of the frame. What do you think?"

Lizzie shook her head. No. Ugh. Not what she wanted.

"Okay. How about draping a sheet over it?"

That was more up her alley. We picked out a full sized white flat sheet, on sale for 7.99 (back to college sale).

Back home, we heated chicken nuggets in the toaster oven and enjoyed our brand new airconditioning unit, which for 3000.00 delivers an even 75 degree coolness. I had a quesadilla or two. Willow followed me from stove to table, nosing me in the rear hopefully. Perhaps she thought she'd joggle a piece of ham or cheese out of my loose grip. Ha!

The sheet looks okay on the frame. I pinned it to each of the four corners with invisible safety pins. "Hey," I said, "I could use ribbons or something to pull this up," I pinched the middle of the swag hanging down, "and make it look really cool."

Lizzie shook her head. "I think it looks good the way it is," she said.

Whatever. Turns out we can order an arched full size canopy top, custom measured to order, on the internet. It will only cost us another 79.00 plus shipping and handling.


Now I'm heading over to the hairdresser's for a color job. Actually, I'm sick of my hair touching my face and fantasize about having him whack it off just under my ears. But that would negate the whole growing-the-hair-out-as-long-as-I-can-ge

t-it thing. Plus, just the color will be over 100.00.

In preparation for that, I have to coax Willow out of the living room (she's crashed out here on my feet) and into her crate. I've already crated her twice this morning--once for the delivery and then again for the shopping trips--and have used the doggie biscuits and the Kong loaded with soft cheese. What's left for her?

Wish me luck.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Diary of a Mod/Mad Housewife

6:45 AM

Woke from vaguely troubled dreams to Bowling for Soup singing "you could be my next ex-girlfriend."

7:00 AM

Walked Willow up the street. She sat on Brad and Diane's lawn and looked longing at their windows. She pooped on their neighbor's strip of lawny weeds, the strip near the street. I scooped it up into my blue plastic bag and dangled it, odiferous, like a testes sack all the way back.

7:30 AM

Finished a lemon poppy seed muffin and reheated coffee blasted with 2% milk. Read a New York Times Sunday Styles article, "The Shelf Life of Bliss," 3/4 of the way through, long enough to discover that the thrill in any relationship, whether legally married or simply cohabiting, drains out of the bottom by the 3rd year or so. And then it's just slogging thorugh the rest of the years as if through oatmeal, apparently.

Yesterday, Lizzie blithely announced that Brian, of the across the street neighbors, has moved to his brothers. "They hope it's temporary," she chirped.

Dave reached across the truck seat and patted me on the shoulder.

8:00 AM

Crated Willow, read a few pages of Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games in the bathroom.

8:15 AM

Went into the basement and worked out. I'm doing interval training, which is supposed to burn more fat. Of course, I'm eating more fat, so it's not working out the way I'd perhaps anticipated. Whatever. (This is my new philosophy. It's like another and similar philosophy that I've been reading in other blogs: meh. As in, "Well, I just spent 6000.00 on a new furnace and airconditioner. Meh.")

While I worked out, I watched two episodes of Alias from season one: the one where Sydney saves her dad from a nefarous guy in Cuba and the one where she learns that her dead mother was a spy for the KGB and was responsible for killing a bunch of "innocent" CIA agents. I saw that latter plot twist coming for miles down the road and congratulated myself for it.

For the last 10 minutes of the second episode, I folded two baskets of clean laundry.

9:30 AM

Cleaned Lizzie's room. We've gotten rid of her bed because we bought her a new one, which is to arrive on Thursday. (Yesterday, when Lizzie announced that Hunter's and Ethan's dad had left his wife slash high school sweetheart just "temporarily," we were en route to deliver the futon couch to a student's house. This futon couch is the last vestige of our graduate school life. I can't say that I'm too sorry to see it go...)

Threw out a few things while Lizzie watched TV on the second floor, where she is sleeping until her new bed arrives: four deflated hot air balloons; a dessicated floral arrangement; various papers.

Pushed her dresser against a different wall. Removed the cork board from the wall where her new headboard will go. Rearranged the pictures and mirrors to accomodate the new location for the cork board. Took the raggedy area rug down to the basement.

Thoroughly vaccumed the hard wood.

10:30 AM

At Lizzie's request, put all the mirrors and wall hangings back in their original places. Determined that the corkboard would have to go to the basement, and that, after the bed arrives, the rug will be vaccumed and returned to its bedroom.


Vaccumed the dining room. Freaked out about the ugly brown spots on the carpet. Scheduled a cleaning for next week.

11:30 AM

De-crated Willow and asked Lizzie to take her outside to play.

11:35 AM

Took Willow from Lizzie, who announced that she intended to go across the street and play.

11:37 AM

Coaxed Willow down from the 2nd floor. Removed the stuffed rabbit from her mouth and threw it into the stairwell. Shut off the 2nd floor.

11:40 AM

Removed my shoe from Willow's mouth. Coaxed Willow into the kitchen with Gary, the stuffed elephant. Told her that Gary needed some chewing. Closed off the basement and its treasure trove of 1000 stuffed animals.

11:45 AM

Made Willow do a puppy push up (sit, down, sit, stand, down, stand) for part of the dog buscuit she'd been sniffing. She can reach the top of the mobile dishwasher now if she jumps up.

11:47 AM

Told Willow that Gary needed more chewing. On her bed.

11:48 AM

Attached Willow to the leash and took her outside. Told her to go crazy on the holes she's been digging. Our back yard is devastated--looks like a Faulknerian landscape, something the Snopes would be comfortable in. All we need is a big boiling pot and a few hefty women in gaudy ribbons to sit around fanning themselves in the folding chairs.

11:50 AM

Started responding to e-mails. Wrote to Mom. Looked out the window to see Willow pooping at the end of her rope, on the dividing line between our yard and the neighbor's.

Looked out the window to see Willow barking at the back neighbor, Ruby.

Looked out the window to see Willow hip deep in one of her holes, barking at ... me?

12:20 PM

Cleaned up the poop. Swept the dirt from Willow's newest hole back into it. She jumped and barked at the broom.

12:47 PM

I'm inside now, typing this. I've taken some testimonial pictures of some of these events and downloaded them from the camera to the laptop.

I look out the window and see Willow in the flower bed, digging behind the big hosta.

I contemplate killing her.

Instead, I go out and pull her out of the bed. Find a stick. Throw it to the other side of the yard for her to catch. She manages to get a smear of spit-dirt on my arm.

Now she's outside the door, yipping and crying. I look out the window in time to see her run back toward her hole. Along the way, her rope wraps around the bbq grill and, as she dashes away from it, pull it down and over with an impressive clang.

I guess that's my cue to end this and go out there. If I don't respond to your emails in a timely fashion, this is why.

Friday, June 1, 2007

In Memory of Cassandra Voss: A Collection of Her Writing

Cassandra J. Voss, cherished student, friend, and daughter, passed away in a car accident on May 21, 2007. On earth, Cassandra inspired us all with her loving compassion, her generous, vibrant spirit, and vigorous activism. Truly, Cassandra embodied loving kindness.

A talented dancer, writer, artist, singer, and healer, Cassandra leaves us here with vivid memories. These writings show the range of her intellect and vision.


On Poetry
Cassandra Voss

Mainly, my poetry tends to be confessional. I feel drawn to poets like Plath, who shares her battle between a feminist consciousness, and a desire to be accepted (by society, but also by herself). I write to “kill the angel in the house” so to speak, and yet, I want to preserve the angel. Identifying the line where human’s free will to choose becomes grey, is I believe my strength in creative writing. My goal as a writer is always to bring the reader (and even more so myself) to that edge, that place where you are forced to make a decision, and where you will sit there for hours analyzing the possible ways to jump off the cliff, because you definitely cannot go back now. Finally, a conclusion is made, and through some catharsis you are free to let go.

In the future, I would like to develop my skills in writing about things external to me. I am often times so consumed by self wonder that I forget there is a world worth writing about which exists outside. I would like to experiment with different styles, and push myself to not just write poetry as if I was simply journaling about my day. Becoming more conscious about what I want to share with the world, instead of counting on it coming out of me at random, would be much more reassuring in terms of my creative skill. Yes, creativity is intuitive, but it can also be learned.


Salt on a Wound
Cassandra Voss

I dream of a bird whose body is similar to a peacock,
although it has a slightly longer neck.
Its feathers are green,
like a granny smith apple,
like the kind my mother used to
salt on
to make them sparkle,
and then eat in devouring and passionate bites.
Her tongue absorbing the sour flesh,
down to the heart of the fruit.

The bird is a normal bird, it has
two black eyes
from which to see its way,
and a beak which it uses to speak
out of, and take in
its nourishment.
It differs however in its ability to fly,
for the poor creature has but one wing.

So it drowns in the air,
shrieking and yelping and
Its head over its green body,
just like my mother’s salt shaker
salt over
her granny smith apples
to make them sparkle.

I gasp, that I might be able to save the heart creature.
But in its desperation it
its sight,
and springs through the window of the house.
Its feathers and flesh
cut by the separation of
glass, and old wood.

Splintering sound echoes,
and the bird is shaking on the floor of the room.
I think it dead, yet the echo of the break is alive, and the
of the bird, is just like
my mother’s hand
on her granny smith apples
to make them sparkle.

But then, miraculously, or perhaps, in masochism,
the bird gets up and flies back out the same window
just to fall again.
This time, on the cold snake scale pavement, still

I realize now that the bird will not die,
That in fact it is salvageable.

The bird’s open wounds bleed onto its sparkling green feathers,
just like the open wound on the skin of my mother’s
granny smith apples sparkle from the salt
she herself has


Don't Worry. I'm not Sleeping Here Tonight.

Cassandra Voss

I feel as though I may snap. Like Charlotte, I may begin creeping around on the ground. It gives a whole new meaning to the color yellow—which I’ve been wearing to help my will center. It’s not helping though. Sometimes I’m just lonely. Sometimes I just want to be alone. What does it mean if I tell her that she has the cutest face when I used to say that you had the cutest face? Fuck you. Have you had sex with her yet? You’re not in love with me anymore. I still love you. Where is Woolf when you need her? The closest I can get to you is the indigo girls—but I can’t even listen to them in a room of my own. I miss you too gramma, say hi to Virginia for me.

I miss my mother.

miss my mother when I was a child, and sick, and she mixed orange juice and Fresca together in a giant green cup just for me.

always told myself that I would become a lesbian if he ever cheated on me, but I’d rather be single. I’m so sick of women. Passive aggressiveness. That poem about condoms last week was so great—how wonderful to worry about if you’re putting your penis in her vagina the right way. I bet she’s worrying about if you will believe her when she fakes it. I’m so sick of men who don’t know where the clitoris is. Would it be ok if I said I just wanted a good fuck—a good fuck with a man? Is that Antithetical to feminism? Would it be ok if I went out and got drunk, and in my vulnerability I slept with a boy who didn’t know how to put a condom on. Look at him pretending like it gets easier every time. Is that what scares them? That I see through their masculinity? Don’t worry. I’m not sleeping here tonight.

I miss my mother.
I miss my mother when I got my period, and she gave me two aspirin and a wine cooler.

feel like I’m going to crack. Like Edna Pontellier, I’m going to forget how to swim. I’ve become aware of my dependency on men. There energy is soothing like my blanket, or my mother…or my father, when I was very young. What can soothe me now? Live women do not do it. But perhaps, dead women can. Perhaps Sylvia had it right. To die is an art. Oh if I died, I could be with her now, express my love for her, kiss her burned lips and taste the fire from the stove on her tongue. But even though I love you, I cannot follow in your footsteps. I am not a martyr. So, instead of suicide I will write poetry and miss my mother.

I think I may be having a funeral in my brain, like Emily, isolating myself to the point of invisibility. I do like her poetry by the way. But I agree, she was also a martyr, Daddy’s little girl. I wonder if she ever had an orgasm? I like to imagine her with someone, perhaps a woman, although a man would probably make her father angrier. There they are in the garden, in the early hours of the morning, reciting lines from Paradise Lost and fucking in the dirt—right on top of the tulips. And I bet she’s thinking she loves him, but he’s too busy worrying about her father who might wake up from her loud moaning. She looks up at the sky and knows her mother is watching over her.

I feel like I just got back from a dinner party. Like Judy, making myself so full of women’s stories that I become sick to my stomach. I cannot distinguish anymore—do I miss my mother or you? No, it is not you. It is me that I miss. Wasn’t I an artist once? A dancer? A witch? I used to paint for days at a time without eating or sleeping, and I would cry over my work. When I was finished I would lie in my bed and dream about planting roses. But this institution doesn’t allow for that kind of freedom. I stay up writing poetry until 3 in the morning—there is no time for dreaming. I wake up 4 hours later and have to argue my feminist dissertation…

Don’t worry. I’m not sleeping here tonight…I just need a catharsis.


On Poetry II
Cassandra Voss

I guess it is no surprise to you that everything in this collection is... confessional. I have learned that that is what I write best... myself. I write what I know—loss, anger, love, appreciation... I have learned that these emotions are not around all the time, so when you feel them, write them, because you don't know when or if you will ever have them again. Do not wait a day, or an hour, or even a minute. Grab a pen, tell the guy you're fucking to 'hold his horses ' and write down whatever you need to write down.


The Painting That Speaks to My Chakras
Cassandra Voss

It says that my heart is connected
to my will.
That they spin together to light
my being,
and move me.
They're working together now
to try and absorb you away,
but you do not back down.
I see in the corner,
my belly has also attempted to
weave a net for you;
with intent to devour your pricking horn,
and save my green and yellow
center from all this work.
But you do not fall.


Cento For Plath
Cassandra Voss

Send my muse Alice packing with gaudy scraps
You do not do, you do not do
Look right, look left, I dwell alone;
As Venus, pedestalled on a half-shell
I sought my image
A witch’s face?

Pure as a pane of ice. It’s a gift.
Lulled in the ample womb of the full-tilt globe.
And the shadow stretched, the lights went out
They bow and stand: they suffer such attacks!
Herr God, Herr Lucifer

I am in control.
Some damned condition you are in:

A third person is watching

God’s Lioness
Opening, in spring, like an industrious virgin
Do you do no harm?
Down here the sky is always falling.
Exit seraphim and Satan’s men:
She is used to this sort of thing.
She doesn’t need food, she is one of the real saints.


For Marion
Cassandra Voss

You are my dark Goddess.
I hated You at first.
I hated You for taking him away from Me,
and tearing Me open.
I knew it was You, because he could have never done it himself—coward.
You are my Angelina Jolie.

I want to seduce You.
I want You to fall in love with me,
and leave him, tearing him open.
You know i have more passion then he does—You know because You crafted me—and him.
You are my black hole.

i love Your depth.
i love You for taking me deeper and wider,
so that I could remember how to be alone in the darkness.
I needed to remember the darkness,

I miss having a leech to lie with.
But now he’s stuck to You.
Although perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself.
You love him too.
Of course You do.
In any case,

i understand.
I understand.

Tu l'as fait pour moi.*
Tu l'as fait entierement pour moi.

So let’s celebrate.
Because it’s my cake,
Car c’est mon gateau,

and my knife,
et mon Couteau,

and my resurrected life.

Merci, Marion,


The Scent of Dead Illusions
Cassandra Voss

Remember lake Michigan?
Do you remember how incredibly illusive we were?
Our brains were the mist that
rolled over the water and onto the sand,
and then back again.
Broken glass beer bottles cutting the fog
that was closest to the ground,
but we were walking on the air.
I remember it was cold.
I was glad it was cold, because it disguised the smell of
Fish that lie carelessly buried in the sand,
some in clumps, all on top of each other,
as if they died while making love.
Our bodies were like those fish that night—
clumped together,
too hastily perhaps,
but we didn’t notice then.
I remember we were scared.
We even admitted it to each other.
What was lurking inside the giant black pine trees?
we asked.
We were waiting for some man or other creature
to jump out and attack us,
but we made it back to your car unassaulted.
I turned back and took in the lake one last time,
still illusioned, still
under its spell.
I wish I could go back to lake Michigan with you.
Lie on the sand like the dead fish, making love.
If I went back I could find it again,
the two of us.
we are there, lying clumped together.
Dead, because the water has washed us ashore and then
left us,
eating the sand. We are not making love anymore.
The illusion is gone.
All that is left are fish skeletons.
but at least
when it is cold the
smell is bearable.


A Short Story
Cassandra Voss

Every detail of her character was blurry still. Just as her professor had said the grandmother stories were getting old, and she was sick of writing in first person. Her voice wasn’t as real as it had been before. Somehow through all the stress of her life she had forgotten who she was—I write for myself—but all she had been doing lately is writing to fill the gaping hole inside her, trying to fill up space with superficial energies. Not that her grandmother stories were completely void of depth, but never depth inside her, only external depth, only the depth of the situation—How interesting can my life be? —she thought, instead of asking the more important question— How important am I? — That’s what she really wanted to know anyway.

So, she continued to write in her hard cover notebook, the one that made her feel so unique, like such an individual, when all her classmates brought in their spiral bounds- What a joke—It was so cliché to be an individual, and now here she sat at 2 a.m. —just like a writer—doing it for it’s mere martyrdom effect, attempting to reach some edge, some breaking point, where, with a flick of ink something would strike her, something which she would collapse into, and where black runs would be all over the paper from her indulgent tears—How do I really feel about my gramma? …What is still inside me? Anything?

All she could think of was her vision of her grandmother as a high priestess, with long blond hair. She wondered why her grandmother didn’t give her luck when she played cards the night of her funeral.

Her writing was turning into a journal. She remembered her professor’s words— “No one wants to hear about your pathetic, boring life.” —The truth was, her life was boring. She was over being mad at her father, and sick of playing the victim with her stepmother. She had a best friend and a boyfriend—both of which she had stable, healthy relationships with. She got along with her mother. —I think writers purposely try to make themselves miserable in order to write good stories. What a bunch of fucking martyrs. There’s a topic I could write on ‘Women as Martyrs,’ how fucking original. —In any case, she kept writing in her hard cover notebook, fighting for some epiphany to leap up off the cream colored page destroying the gray lines that separated the words of her story.

This is so fucking abstract—Her character still lacked any real personality. In fact the only real character was a chair, or a ring, or some other object laid out in some extraordinary metaphor that was supposed to represent love, or death, or herself. God damn it, I’m supposed to be a fucking feminist, how hard can this be? —She thought she had already claimed her voice, but now she was unsure.

Finally, her soul lay open on the page. She was too exhausted to continue. —Maybe I’m not supposed to be a writer. —But this thought made her even more of a martyr then fucking Christ. —How do you not be a stereotypical writer? Where is my story, where is my fucking original story? Who the fuck am I? —That’s what she was really looking for; some sense of who she really was, some spiritual wholeness, some kind of original self. —It doesn’t exist. We’re always searching. We’re all always searching. That’s not original.


Reclaiming Slut

Cassandra Voss

I want to be a Slut—
overflowing and bubbling with passion.
I want to decorate my eyes
with black mystery,
and my hair with dark desire.

I want to call the shots.
I want all of them—
the cowboys, the pseudo intellectuals, the hippies, the biker dudes, all of them—
to want my body.
I used to wish that these men wanted to have my heart—but I don’t believe in that kind of ownership anymore—my heart is sick of being somebody else’s.

I used to want to be with these men because the accentuated my adventurousness, my intellectualism, my earthiness, my “bad ass” persona. —but it was all in vain.
Now I want to be my own cowboy, and I want to take a ride on my own motorcycle.

I want to buy my own drinks—
a very bloody Mary please.

I want to be a Slut—
I want to pretend to be men’s commodity, but then remind them that I am in control.
I don’t actually need them to salvage an identity—I don’t even need them for sex.

I want to be Mrs. Robinson.
I want to be Madonna.
I want to be the screamer that lives down the hall.

I want other girls to talk about me behind my back—just loud enough that I might hear.

I want to be educated in the art of desire,
and I want to teach men the tricks of the trade.
I want people to come up to me and ask me the questions they wish they could ask their mothers.
I want to wear black lingerie
as everyday clothes.
I want to go to the store and buy condoms—just condoms
and maybe a bottle of cheap wine.

I want to be a Slut—
don’t you love that word?
Lemme break it down for you:
Sssssssssssss for Sassy,
Lllllll for lily’s like Georgia O’keefe draws them
U for Universal physical connection
ti-T for tentatively tasting tarnished men…
and women.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:

I want to be a SLUT—
do I need to repeat myself:
you know you want it again:

Here we go now:
Calling all straight As, all goody two-shoes, all nice Christian girls, don’t you wish you were a---



The Awakening (Not for Chopin, but for Flora)
Cassandra Voss

In my dream, I got a message from my mom, who said that my gramma died.

Bile duct cancer.

My gramma used to cut my hair, and every time she would say,
"A woman's hair is like her heart."

For the past six months her hair had been falling out,

and mine had been growing.

The next thing I remember is a glass on my gramma's kitchen table,
next to a white bottle of pills.

The problem is life.

And a half empty glass is more like milk, than it is like water,

you can't see it all.

The I woke up.

And the sound of love rang like a wicked laugh.

I found my scissors, and made my hair like my heart.


Conforming to the Soul

Cassandra Voss

Stand in line--straight, still, and soulless.
Or perhaps,
all one single soul.
All legs
all toes
all arms and wrists
all shoulders
all faces
reflecting one movement.
black torsos,
pink legs,
One single string tied between them.
One pulls on the others.
If one falls,
they all fall,
tumbling down into
the emptiness.
Their only identity
tied up with the string.


On Literary Criticism

Cassandra Voss

Since my introduction to feminism in my later High School years, to formal education in Women’s and Gender Studies, my definition of feminism has constantly been changing, reshaping, becoming abstract, and then concrete and then abstract again, becoming separatist and then inclusive, and so on. In turn my interpretations of literature have also been constantly changing.

Literature is important because it has power. Literature has the ability to affect the way people think about themselves, and the world. However, if feminism has taught me anything, it is that we need to learn to read literature critically. We need to be “resistant readers.” [“How Feminists Read Tim O’Brien’s ‘The Things They Carried’”] has come out of the castle of critical feminist thought, and works to address the rationalization of many of my peers that just because a text is not presented in light of feminist criticism, does not mean that we are not allowed to analyze a text through a feminist lens. Also, it is the first essay I have written which forced me to consider how I impose my own experiences onto a text. For in order to be truly critical of literature, I must first be critical of my subjectivity, and work to acknowledge my own cultural, racial, and class privilege, and also attempt to recognize my own internalized oppression.


How Feminists Read Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried”

Cassandra Voss

In her essay “Are Women’s Novels Feminist Novels,” Rosalind Coward asserts that “As feminists we have to be constantly alerted to what reality is being constructed, and how representations are achieving this construction. In this respect, reading a novel can be a political activity, similar to activities which have always been important to feminist politics in general. (227-8). Coward names what I have struggled with as a feminist reader since my “click moment” one year ago when being a feminist became an innate part of who I was and exerted itself into every aspect of my life, including the way I read literature. Second semester of my freshman year of college I began reading “feminist” novels, such as Marilyn French’s The Women’s Room, which overtly allowed me to analyze them in terms of gender. However, my gender radar did not turn off when reading texts that were not considered open for feminist analysis. Thus, I became frustrated with my fellow classmates when I wanted to analyze classic texts, like Huck Finn in terms of gender, and they cast this interpretation aside as having no precedence. As Louise Rosenblatt states, “The literary experience must be phrased as a transaction between the reader and the text. Moreover, as in the creative activity of the artist, there will be selective factors molding the readers response” (35). In other words, as my relationship with feminism grew, so did the opinions that I brought to a text.

After reading Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried” for the third time, (now as a feminist) I realized how many male dominated texts lacked a feminist analysis. I concluded that this lack was because no one wanted to discredit the masculine actions of men (such as going to war). However, for a reader to deny that there are anti-feminist components to these types of stories, or even just to ignore them is problematic. As the authors claim in Gender Studies: Terms and Debates:

Given that the tactical reading is an articulation of the subject’s perception of their own positioning, an understanding of the tactical response can be an important tool for the analyst in understanding that subject’s self-perception, and in making a different perception available to the analyst which reveals the (mainstream) assumptions governing her/his own positioning…For gender theorists, an understanding of tactical reading can lead to valuable insights into the ways in which conservative gendering practices are resisted and transformed, which might in turn provide models for the receptualisation of gendered relationships and identities (Cranny-Francis et al. 135).

If we as readers fail to read texts that are not usually critiqued in terms of feminism and gender, then we will continue to reproduce texts that are sexist and that perpetuate sexist ideals in society. However, if readers take a tactical approach to literature, as previously mentioned, then our resistance to a sexist text is also a political resistance to a sexist society. We are then able to reconstruct what we think real relationships and identities ought to be like in society. Thus, I argue that a feminist reader cannot place a text outside of the sexist society, which it mirrors. Regardless of whether or not the text has been written overtly for feminist analysis or not, a feminist critic will always, and should always, work to deconstruct conservative notions of gender within it.

In the very first paragraph of O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried,” a feminist critic would immediately be set off by the sentence, “She was a virgin, he was almost sure” (90). This immediately sets up a sexual double standard between the male main character, and the female he is thinking about. A sexual double standard that feminist are uncomfortable with. As Rosenblatt explains,

A personal preoccupation or an automatic association with a minor phrase or an attitude toward the general theme will lead to a strong reaction that has very little to do with the work. A word such as home or mother or a phrase such as my country, with its many conventional, sentimental associations, may set off a reaction that tends to blind the reader to the context of these words (80).

Rosenblatt is correct that my reaction as a feminist to this phrase was strong. And although the main idea of the story is about men’s experience at war, and the literal and figurative “things that they carried” Rosenblatt is quick to assert that these “minor phrases” (like “she was a virgin”) have “very little to do with the work.” As a feminist it is impossible to read any text without reacting to anti-feminist phrases, or even words, and also analyzing in terms of gender. This reaction is further heightened by the recognition of a male author who clearly does not include women’s experience into the story, and equivocates misogyny as being merely a part of the natural male experience. As Terry Lovell explains in ‘Writing Like a Woman: A question of Politics,’

The development of the novel has been closely bound up with the social and political position of women…there is a fundamental continuity which firmly places them in a private domestic world where emotions and personal relationships are at once the focus of moral value and the core of women’s experience. In the novel women are ‘prisoners’ of feeling and of private life…Naturally, male writers have struggled against this taint of feminine identification (84).

Feminist readers recognize the complexities of gender oppression. In O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried,” a feminist analysis asserts that O’Brien’s masculine story lends itself also to misogyny. Although readers are taught to separate the author from the narrator of a story, a reader has a hard time distinguishing between the two, and often spends time discussing the life of an author and then applying it to the text. This is a valid response, sense the society in which one lives, and the experiences that person has had helps to shape that person and will, at least to some extent, affect that person’s writing. O’Brein, who served in war, was socialized in the army to be hyper-masculine, and a definition of hyper-masculinity assumes misogyny. Thus, in his story that comes out. The problem is not that his experience is wrong, or that he is wrong to feel the way that he does about women. The problem lies in the reason that he feels that way.

Readers who think that the main character in “The Things They Carried” is merely having “natural” feelings that a man has when at war, fail to take into account the crucial aspect of socialization that men at war go through. Or, if they do recognize this aspect, they fail to see it as problematic. A feminist reader recognizes the socialization, and then takes it one step further by asserting that that kind of socialization—of misogyny—is wrong, and O’Brien’s character’s failure to realize that reproduces hatred toward women. As Rosenblatt asserts,

Just as the personality and concerns of the reader are largely socially patterned, so the literary work, like language itself, is a social product. The genesis of literary techniques occurs in a social matrix. Both the creation and reception of literary works are influenced by literary tradition. Yet ultimately, any literary work gains its significance from the way in which the minds and emotions of particular readers respond to the verbal stimuli offered by the text (28).

Feminist readers, and other types of resistant readers, take into account the socialization of the author and the language itself. Interestingly, resistant readings of this kind, which locate gendered identities which are very conventional and sometimes misogynistic in texts, have recently been attacked for their tendency to construct the (compliant) reader as victim” (Cranny-Francis et al. 121). However, as Rosenblatt states, a text only has power over us if we allow it to have power over us. A feminist reader does not claim that a compliant reader is “victim” to a text, but victim to the socializing of society. A reader who has been taught to experience things in a certain (gendered) way will be bringing that experience to the text. Thus, the “transaction,” as Rosenblatt defines it, is based on the reader’s prior knowledge of that experience, based on the general societal consensus. However, a feminist reader emphasizes that not everyone experiences the same thing the same way.

Often a text is considered great if it allows the reader to “relate” to a main character or main theme of the story. As Rosenblatt explains,

The ability to understand and sympathize with others reflects the multiple nature of the human being, his potentialities for many more selves and kinds of experience than any one being could express. This may be one of the things that enable us to seek through literature an enlargement of our experience. Although we may see some characters outside—that is, we may not identify with them as completely as we do with more congenial temperaments—we are nevertheless able to enter into their behavior and their emotions. Thus it is that the youth may identify with the aged, one sex with another, a reader of a particular limited social background with members of a different class or a different period (40).

Although many agree with Rosenblatt’s explanation of the sympathetic reader, feminists argue differently. The claim that human beings have “multiple natures” which allow them to sympathize with others of a different age, sex, class, ect. is not valid, because gender and class are social constructions, not innate to human beings. For example, consider why when discussing “The Things They Carried,” unless there is feminist in the room, readers are unlikely to talk about gender issues. However, when discussing an overtly feminist text such as “The Yellow Wallpaper,” readers immediately jump to natural explanations for the narrator’s insanity such as post pardon depression. In Gender Studies: Terms and Debates,

Critic Elaine Showalter argued that women ‘are expected to identify with a masculine experience and perspective which is presented as the human one’ (1971, p. 856). The canon, feminists argued, was an engendering practice enacted through specific readings of a selection of texts characterized by the dominance of dead, white males.” As readers and teachers and scholars, women are taught to think as men, to identify with a male point of view, and to accept as normal and legitimate a male system of values, one of whose governing principle is misogyny. (Fetterley 1978, p. xx)” (Cranny-Francis 112).

Feminist readers break away from labeling men’s experiences as human experiences. In effect, when feminists question the so called “human experience” by asserting that—wait a minute, but that’s not my experience—the compliant readers become upset, because that questions everything that they have been taught about the way to read literature.

A feminist critic will always question conservative notions of gender within a text and within a society. To read from a feminist perspective is a political action that allows the individual and the collective community of readers to deconstruct society’s construction of gender. However, feminists must be careful to not reproduce binary notions of gender in their deconstruction. For example, to claim that a woman’s experience at war is innately different then a men’s experience at war perpetuates thinking about emotional differences between men and women as innate. In reality, the way in which someone emotionally deals with or expresses oneself is complexly constructed by society. And so, it is my own journey as a feminist reader to recognize where my own experiences impose themselves onto a text, and that they may not be the experience of everyone else, not even every woman.

Works Cited

Cranny-Francis, Anne, et al. Gender Studies: Terms andDebates. New York: Palgrave
MacMillan, 2003.

Coward, Rosalind. “Are Women’s Novels Feminist Novels,” Eagleton 155-60.

Eagleton, Mary. Feminist Literary Theory: A Reader. Cambridge & Oxford: Blackwell, 1992.

Lovell, Terry. “Writing Like a Woman: A question of Politics.” Eagleton 83-5.

Rosenblatt, Louise. Literature As Exploration. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 1983.

O’Brien, Tim. “The Things They Carried.” Burroway, Janet. Writing Fiction: A guide to Narrative Craft. Longman: New York, 2003. 90-102.


Where Do You Go When You Die?

Cassie Voss, 1996

In memory of William Olson

Where do you go When you Die?

I believe you become nature. Sometimes you dance in the wind. You see the sky light and fluffy, and you become the clouds. Your bright puffy white looks down on the earth and you become the ground.

Your deep rich soil is strong and plentiful. You feel the warm bright light touch your surface, and you become the sun.

As you dim you see something out of the corner of your horizon. It’s a beautiful, blue crescent moon. You see it and you become it.

You see an old friend from the past, and she sees your face on the moon. You wink at her and then make her a shooting star to wish on. As you watch the star gliding through the night sky you wish you were it and you become it. As you settle your five points shimmer and you rest into a peaceful night.

Does Dying mean you’re gone forever?

I believe you’re never gone but just in a deep dream that gives you a better look at yourself. All the good things that you remember are held inside your heart like a picture in a locket. Your attitude when you were in the past is the same when you die. If you die happy that’s how you stay. If you die grumpy that’s how you stay. Therefore be careful, because Attitude is everything!

Why are you scared to Die?

Why are you scared to die? I think most people are scared to die because they think that they won’t see their old friends and you’ll just rot away. When really you remember everyone and love them forever! You see them off and on visiting in dreams and blowing their plants. You whisper to them of the deep dream you’re in. They seem scared because they’ve never heard an invisible person before but you know that in their heart they understand what you are saying. So why worry besides you’re just in a deep peaceful dream.

The End

* You did it for me.

* You did it all for me.

Friday, May 18, 2007

To simplify my life, I'll be posting primarily on Visit me there!

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Glazed with Poetry by the White Woman

After a penultimate Poetry Writing class meeting, I feel charged with poetic energy, like a backyard messiah fired up with the suburban word, ready to spread it around.

Yeah, we talked about sex. A lot about sex. After all, what discussion of poetry is complete without a knock-down-drag-out session of sexual metaphor building?

But, first, I talked. Lectured, rather. I used my power as a professor to talk at the (un)fortunate captive audience, reading poems that have spoken to me--just a smidgen from the pantheon--about the nature of, the purpose for, the audience of poetry.

Here's the list (I only read portions, and then babbled on about why I'd chosen them, including vast patches of shameless self-promotion which I will call Whitmanic Rhapsody):
  • Song of Myself, Walt Whitman
  • "Adam's Curse," W. B. Yeats
  • Four Quartets, T. S. Eliot
  • "Asphodel, that Greeny Flower," W. C. Williams
  • "In Memory of W. B. Yeats," W. H. Auden
  • "Diving into the Wreck," Adrienne Rich
  • "The Bear," Galway Kinnell
  • "The Poem You Asked For," Larry Levis
  • "The Mountain," Louise Gluck
  • "I Go Back to May 1937," Sharon Olds
  • "The Words Continue Their Journey," Margaret Atwood
After my "lecture," interrupted only now and again by the running discourse of Asperger Boy, I asked the students to write for about 5 minutes about what they thought poetry is or should do. Their answers, shared after a small bathroom break, leaped from here to there, from the warm, loving, embracing mother/home/lover who then slaps you in the face and kicks you out of the nest, to the bottle for feelings, to the dominatrix/Old Testament god, to the conversation piece in the singles' bar.

Ever the Whitmanic wheelbarrow woman (so much depends upon/ the slickly fuckable wheelbarrow,/ glazed with hot poetry,/ next to the white woman), I wanted to pour every idea into a body and then to examine that body from every angle.

So my question now is not what poetry can or should do, or for whom, but this:

If poetry were a person, who would it be and how would you interact with him or her?

Friday, April 27, 2007

Poems from Nana Peterson

A package came yesterday for Lizzie. It contained three Little League trophies belonging to Dave (1976, 1977) and three packages of poems, one for each of us. "Celebrate April! National Poetry Month," the slip of covering paper reads. My package contains work by Margaret Atwood.

How lucky can a woman get? I have wonderful in-laws, and my mother-in-law, particularly, has always nurtured my poetry. (Of course Mom has, too, but since we're supposed to take our parents for granted, that's what I'm doing--most of the time.)

Reading over the poems as I nibbled on aging Easter eggs this morning, I was reminded how much I love Atwood's work. And, because I followed up a student poetry reading last night with a trip to a bar for dessert and was, unfortunately, pegged at once as the chaperoning professor rather than a winsome coed, Atwood's "aging female poet" series spoke directly to me.

Aging Female Poet Reads Little Magazines
Margaret Atwood

Amazingly young beautiful woman poets
with a lot of hair falling down around
their faces like a bad ballet,
their eyes oblique over their cheekbones;
they write poems like blood in a dead person
that comes out black, or at least deep
purple, like smashed grapes.
Perhaps I was one of them once.
Too late to remember
the details, the veils.
If I were a man I would want to console them,
and would not succeed.

I am lucky to be surrounded by a few amazingly young beautiful woman poets. My AYBWPs, however, don't write poems like blood in dead people, nor do they let their hair fall down around their faces. My AYBWPs remind me how fun it is to speak our poems aloud, to see the faint lines drawn in the sand and, grinning, to step over them. My AYBWPs (I use the possessive so lovingly) are feisty, loud, amusing, involved, over the top rabble rousers. They do not want to be consoled by a man, men in general, but they do want to be noticed. I know I was one of them once, and, inside, still am. I remember the details, the veils, and am not ashamed to say that I enjoyed them. Still, the melancholy in this poem, the bitchy crone posture, gives me a wonderful thrill. A necessary lift.

Margaret Atwood

My daughter crackles paper, blows
on the tree to make it live, festoons
herself with silver.
So far she has no use
for gifts.

What can I give her,
what armor, invincible
sword or magic trick, when that year comes?

How can I teach her
some way of being human
that won't destroy her?

I would like to tell her, Love
is enough, I would like to say,
Find shelter in another skin.

I would like to say, Dance
and be happy. Instead I will say
in my crone's voice, Be
ruthless when you have to, tell
the truth when you can,
when you can s ee it.

Iron talismans, and ugly, but
more loyal than mirrors.

There's so much in this poem that hits me, umph, on that deep level, the subterranean level of poetry in the body. "How can I teach her/ some way of being human/ that won't destroy her?" How can I read those lines and not feel them, like a soft knife in my womb? This advice, I realize, I've given myself, will give Lizzie, have given to writing students: "Be/ ruthless when you have to, tell/ the truth when you can,/ when you can see it." Yes, that is the point, at least for me, finally.

The Words Continue Their Journey
Margaret Atwood

Do poets really suffer more
than other people? Isn't it only
that they get their pictures taken
and are seen to do it?
The loony bins are full of those
who never wrote a poem.
Most suicides are not
poets: a good statistic.

Some days though I want, still,
to be like other people;
but then I go and talk with them,
these people who are supposed to be
other, and they are much like us,
except that they lack the sort of thing
we think of as a voice.
We tell ourselves they are fainter
than we are, less defined,
that they are what we are defining,
that we are doing them a favor,
which makes us feel better.
They are less elegant about pain than we are.

But look, I said us. Though I may hate your guts
individually, and want never to see you,
though I prefer to spend my time
with dentists because I learn more,
I spoke of us as we, I gathered us
like the members of some doomed caravan

which is how I see us, traveling together,
the women veiled and singly, with that inturned
sight and the eyes averted,
the men in groups, with their moustaches
and passwords and bravado
in the place we're stuck in, the place we've chosen,
a pilgrimage that took a wrong turn
somewhere far back and ended
here, in the full glare
of the sun, and hard red-black shadows
cast by each stone, each dead tree lurid
in its particulars, its doubled gravity, but floating
too in the aureole of stone, of tree,

and we're no more doomed really than anyone, as we go
together, through this moon terrain
where everything is dry and perishing and so
vivid, into the dunes, vanishing out of sight,
vanishing out of the sight of each other,
vanishing even out of our own sight,
looking for water.

Atwood so poignantly gets to the center of the matter--the matter of "being" a poet. Of choosing to write and, presumably, to try to publish (and thus communicate) poetry. Do we really suffer more than others? Is it that we're defining those who don't have a voice, or, as Whitman would have it, giving voice to the voiceless, the "others"--and thus doing them a celestial favor? Are we a doomed caravan, a desert tribe, lost, stuck in the place we've chosen for ourselves (the Sahara of literature?), having taken a wrong turn on a pilgrimage, having lost the guiding star? Perhaps. What Atwood so nicely captures for me here is the sense of wandering I experience when I write, and read, poetry. It is a sense of blue loneliness, invested at least a bit with the fear of never finding the place I seek, or even knowing the place I seek. The landscape is a "moon terrain/ where everything is dry and perishing" and "lurid/ in its particulars, its doubled gravity." How wonderful to realize that what we might be looking for is not God, or a lover, or a chance to talk with that elusive other, but water (which is probably all of these things at once, and more.)

Nana, if you're reading this, thank you for the poems! I've got a taste for Atwood again. I'll have to go to the bookstore and pick some of her up, take her home, eat her smothered in hot fudge, whipped cream, nuts and a cherry. (Oh, and I hope you realize just how much you look like the aging Canadian siren...)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Asking for Directions

A Twenty-Minute Writing Exercise from The Poet's Companion, Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux, eds. (p. 246-7)

I Can't Remember

I can't remember if the last time I saw you was
that Christmas in San Carlos, when Lizzie pitched
a tantrum on the dining room rug (Liz and Mike
were in Tahoe for the week and we were squatting
in their house); you said, shaking your silver head
over the Caesar salad, to Aunt Wendy, covering
your moving mouth with a spotted hand,
"In my day, we had the kids in bed by 7:00,
ate alone at 9:00," as if the absence of their living noise,
the triumphant crash, bang, and scream of them making
their unholy mark on the world were some sort of
half-recalled heaven--

that's not how I want to remember you,
not as a sudden old woman in her 90s,
frail, confused,
a grounded traveler guarding her remaining days
against the brush of death's
mind-numbing cloak.
Even then, when I could tell we'd lost
quite a bit of you already,
I loved you with an ache that went deeper
than your son's early death.

When I got the email about your diagnosis,
I sat at my desk, here at school, alone,
and stared into the glowing screen--
as if there, in the shifting light, I could see
the flit of your young body on a Rhode Island beach,
the reach of your legs, pedaling on nothing,
to the sky.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Appointment in Samarra

Dave used to tell me things about this novel. Actually, he used to tell me about the story O'Hara uses to begin his novel, a story about Death meeting a man in the market. The man is startled to see Death and runs home to his master, asks for a horse and money so he can escape Death and run to Samarra. The master gives him everything he wants and off he gallops, hell bent for leather. The master meets Death later, and Death explains--Death was surprised to see the servant in the market. "I have an appointment with him later, in Samarra."

I can't remember the contexts for Dave's discussions of the story, or O'Hara's novel. No doubt he had a point to make about how hard it is to escape our fates. Or else he wanted to call my attention to this novel, which doesn't get much airplay, but--now that I've finally read it--does, to my mind, another number on the same sort of world that Fitzgerald takes on in The Great Gatsby.

Even though I've read The Great Gatsby at least two times, I can't really remember much about it right now, except that Daisy (I think that's her name) runs over someone with her car, and Jake (is that his name?) comes back from obscurity with lots of money to throw massive parties and to try to win Daisy over to his side. She plays him for all he's worth, runs over someone, and then ends up with her brutish once-rich faux-aristo husband again in the end. It's one of those novels designed to expose all the savagery of the idle American rich, and as such is a classic, one of the top dozen novels a person should read in order to call herself an educated American. (I've no doubt exposed myself here, or at least exposed my faulty memory banks, by committing all sorts of errors in fact and plot and theme. Oh well.)

In any case, my experience of O'Hara's novel was quite good. As I was reading the story, which deals with several middle class families in a small Pennsylvania town outside of Philadelphia, I was pleasantly shocked at O'Hara's treatment of sexuality (blunt, unromanticized, only half euphemized) and marriage (blunt, unromanticized, not euphemized at all) and alcoholism (ditto marriage). Looking at the copyright date, 1934, I expected the story to suffer from the brittle self consciousness of many Depression/Prohibition era novels that didn't quite make it to the "must read" lists of the later part of the century, the cracked patina of the hordes of "hilarious" black and white screwball comedies that used to define American Movie Classics (before they started chopping movies from the later decades into tidbits with commercials--in fact, is there even an American Movie Classic channel anymore? Wow. I don't think there is...) But the novel does a very good job of getting at middle class suburbia, men who sell Cadillacs, country club frat boys, and their bored, desperate wives, and at the spiritual vacuity that leads them to self destruct.

I'm sure that Johns Updike and Cheever owe a small tip of the hat each to O'Hara, who years before them captured the angst of Eastern suburbia, the general pointlessness of daily human interaction, and the material strivings of communities divided by religion, ethnic origins, money, and politics--but mostly by a sort of spiritual sterility.

(I note from the site where I found the picture for this entry that Fran Lebowitz called O'Hara 'the real ... Fitzgerald,' though that citation can't be verified because of the vagaries of Wikipedia, and that Updike has been one of O'Hara's consistent supporters. What do I learn from this? That I should trust my gut reactions.)

For those of you who've recommended that I read McCarthy's The Road, you'll be happy to know that I've decided to include it in my senior creative writing seminar in the fall. I have yet to read it (just ordered it from, which has suckered out of me the 75.00 it takes to get my selections sent to me free on the 2-day plan) but, based on the blurbs, very much look forward to it. I love post apocalyptic narratives (don't ask me why, because they scare the shit out of me... it's probably because they scare the shit out of me that I love them). If you've got a favorite post-apocalyptic narrative you'd like to recommend, drop me a comment. The best ones I've read lately have been, in order of greatness:

1. Orynx and Crake, Margaret Atwood
2. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer
3. The Stand, Stephen King
4. The Children of Men, P. D. James

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

STD notes

I'm sitting in a hotel room (tv burbling in the background) in Pittsburgh, PA, typing this.

We're here to attend the annual Sigma Tau Delta National English Honor Society convention. This year, there are over 700 English majors in attendance, and 12 of them are ours. Wow.

Tonight, some of us went out to dinner. We walked down to the strip district, through thinning rush hour traffic, making only a few mistakes in navigation (my fault) that led us into one dead end at the Amtrak station. "Is this the shitty part of town?" Stewart asked, as we threaded our way under the rotting overpasses, past deserted carpet warehouses, kicking through blowing paper cups and cigarette butts.

We found a restaurant in the middle of the district, a two story bar with an iron grill railing along both street and balcony. We took up two four tops on the balcony and ordered hopefully. Zach and I went hog wild and chose the Lobster roll. We were disappointed. Was it even lobster in the roll? It was all ground up, a ruddy mess shoved into greasy slabs of buttered toast.

We must be English majors; though I'm sure most of us are pretty good with math, we babbled and bobbled over the bill for far too long, until finally we figured out a decent tip and left.

Tonight, the Rectangle readings--one great story about zombies and some well-written but strangely distant pieces of creative non fiction. I sat in the audience, closing my eyes at times to blot out the sudden blare and thump of music from the next ballroom, the words bouncing off the grotesque fleur-de-lis pattern of the yellow (yes, yellow!) wallpaper, reverberating. I tried to swim my way through the words to their hearts, to find the center of each matter, to see into the speaker, the writer, the light that defined him or her. It was difficult, if not impossible. I yearned for a more solid sense of story, of connectedness, instead of the swirling sensation of glancing acquaintance.

Ah, well--as we filed out of the ballroom at the end of the reading, into the Hilton hallway where the air was fresh and cool on our fevered faces as two moist mother's hands, I felt the building connection between those of us from Wisconsin, drawing together easily as we walked down the hallways, planning the next three days, teasing each other about outfits and parties and this blog (I'm not going out to drink, I said, because I gave up alcohol for Lent and because I need this time to write about them on the blog).

This entry has no thesis. It swirls around a warm center. That center is filled with nothing that I can put into words.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Pissed Rigid

It's the first official day of my spring break and I'm sitting in my living room with the blinds still drawn, stewing.

Last week, prompted by the office assistant in charge of updating our faculty information forms, I went back to my vita to add my few new publications. In the meantime, I started to wonder what happened to a few items, such as the poem supposedly accepted to a journal two years ago--no sign of the journal yet, the book review accepted a year and a half ago (again, no contributor's copy), and the batch of poems a former student solicited from me for her own university's mag.

I sent out a flurry of emails, determined to discover what had happened, if anything, to my work. First, I found out by looking at the online version of the book review's journal that, indeed, my piece was published a year ago. My name, however, was misspelled--annoying, since this is a fairly reputable literary journal. I'm assuming that book reviewers don't get contributor's copies; they certainly don't get a contributor's note, nor do they get a more than cursory overlook of their last name. At least I didn't have to delete the line on my vita.

Today, I got a very apologetic email from the editor of the journal that did, in 2003, publish my poem under a new title (they didn't like the old one, which was "Necrophilia," and changed it, probably with my help, to "Grace," but didn't a. inform me that they were indeed publishing it under a new name, or b. send me my contributor's copies). So that's nice--I can add that line in my vita back.

I also got another apologetic email from the former student. Her editor decided not to use my work "this time" but wants me to send again next year. This is what's chapping my hide just a bit. First of all, when I worked for a literary quarterly and we solicited work from an author, our editor did his damndest to select at least one of the poems in the batch for publication, even if, on reflection, he didn't much like them. Second of all, we made sure that we kept in contact with the writer throughout the process. This particular process has been going on since the beginning of last semester, or longer. The editor did not ONCE get in contact with me personally to let me know that a. my stuff wasn't good enough and so b. I could send it elsewhere. And now I'm supposed to want to submit my shit again next year?

Please. PLEASE. I not only feel offended (my stuff wasn't good enough, even--especially!--after solicitation) but annoyed. No. Beyond annoyed. Fried. Pissed. Pissed rigid.

It's one thing to be rejected. It's another to be blown off, forgotten. The least the editor could feel would be a modicum of guilt, a little shame. Something! A little apology. So sorry to get your hopes up and make you send me something, and then to take so long to mull it over in my peabrain.

So I'm sitting here in my living room with a gray cloud floating over my head. I'm sick of sending poetry out to little pissant journals with an inflated sense of their own self importance, waiting as long as a year for it to come back with a standard form or, worse (at this point in the game), a handwritten "note" saying "sorry, try us again next year" or some other claptrap.

Why? Why should I try to "date" you again, moron? It's a failed seduction. You've sent me a come on, so I've put myself out there, and now you've said, Eh, sorry, not interested. In fact, so not interested that you're not worth the time and energy it would take me to reject you. Try me again next year when perhaps I'm more desperate.

Right. And maybe next year I'll have finally grown a set of metaphorical balls on me (sorry, feminist friends) and I'll have better journals to sleep with.

And maybe I'll be writing in a genre that gets more respect (and reading time) than (sorry again, folks) poetry.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Evil Genius

I am almost done with Wilkie Collins' novel, something I found in our college library, something old and green-clad, crumbling yellow browny pages that threaten to evaporate as I turn them. There's some real crazy gender role stuff going on in the novel. It turns out that "evil genius" refers not to some villainous man tying women to railroad tracks but to a governess (of course) who disrupts a happy family (wife, husband, spoiled only child, spoiled mother-in-law/mother-of-wife) with her evil neediness and pale, wasted good looks. Once she's taken in by the family and the bloom is finally on her rose (good air, love of child, regular food, affection), the kind, loving father-husband of course falls in love with her and everything shits the bed.

Well, at first we're to assume that Sydney Westerfield (the governess) is in fact the "evil genius," but it turns out that the coiner of that phrase, Mrs. P, the mother-in-law/mother of the wronged bride, is herself the E. G. The man in question is not an evil genius (frankly, he's too stupid to be a villain and, in my humble opinion, should probably die in the last 40 pages); he's a victim of his dick and circumstances, according to the semi-sympathetic narrator.

I'm wondering about WC's narrator. You see, the wronged wife, Charlotte, is strong-armed by her mother and her lawyer into, horror of all horrors, filing for and getting a Divorce. The Divorce allows her to keep her daughter but ensures that she will become the scourge of civil middle class English society. So Mrs. P. allows the misapprehension of widowhood to cover over the "fact" of her daughter's Divorce, so that a new and woefully ignorant man can be reeled onto her daughter's hook. Madness of all sort ensues. What does the narrator think about all this? Clearly, he thinks that Charlotte was a chump to allow the governess access to her loving husband in the first place. Also, he thinks that Divorce is a sin. He probably wants us to see the ex-husband as a supreme putz. After all, ex-husband has managed not only to lose his family, but also the repentant governess, who sees that she will never truly have her "lover's" heart, and gives him up.

What will happen in the last 40 pages? I predict that Sydney will not survive--the bottom of the pond has been calling her name, despite her selfless act of contrition and her attempts to patch things up with her former mistress, Charlotte. I predict that the lumpen ex will manage to rewed his ecstatic former wife, Charlotte. The spoiled only daughter will remain spoiled. Somehow, Mama P will get her comeupance.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

What else is new?

I managed to spill disgusting swamp water, percolating under Steve, the Christmas tree, all over the living room floor last night. (For full, gory details, check out That was last night, at 10:10, when I should've been going to bed.

Now I'm sitting in the living room with the laptop on my, well, lap, and I'm trying to think of what I need to do--other than get up and go to the bathroom, change pants, practice qigong, (can I just insert how much I loathe the standing postures? the pine tree, sitting at a desk, and holding the basin for 5 minutes each? ugh. i can't get my brain to stop leaping all over mundane, idiotic things like a squirrel in the back yard), think about bathing the girl (who is sitting in front of the boob tube watching a very bad movie on Cartoon network and I'm letting her), set up the dishwasher, make the proper bibliography for all the critical articles I want my Intro to Lit students to read (ha and double ha to that one, Batman--they'll read those articles when Hell freezes over), moisturize my hands...

Or I could read those books that are collecting on me. I'm in the middle of Extremely Close and Incredibly Loud, still. Now I've got three more books to read, all of them about raising strong children/daughters. Lizzie's past her crisis (the latest one) with the kids across the street but I've invested over $30.00 on the books and, by God, I'm going to get my money's worth. Eventually.

Today I went into campus thinking I'd spend the day working on my own writing. What did I do instead? I can't rightly say. But I burned up the entire day, all the way to past 5 PM, and I don't have a single line of a single story or poem or essay (except this, and what's this?) to show for myself. In the middle of my time sink, I tried to update my vita, looking for those "forthcoming" poems--the ones that So and So journal promised to publish in 2004 and then absolutely nada, the silence of death. So I tracked them down, or tried to, leaving voice mail messages and emails, sprinkling my electronic crumbs around the internet. The net result is that I ended up deleting a line from the vita. So instead of accomplishing anything, I really de-complished something.

This will depress me if I think about it long enough, so I won't. I'll change my pants, practice qigong, insist that Lizzie soak her rear end, and read a chapter of EL&IC.

But what about the bibliography for the articles you want those kids to read? Eh. Maybe you should just delete that paper from the syllabus.