TST: “Golden Revolver”––San Cisco

My sister sends me songs she’s recording/mixing on Thursdays; ones to inspire me through the next week (or at least through the weekend). Most of them are TOP SECRET.

She calls this practice “Theme Song Thursday.”

Here’s my theme song for you this Thursday, sister.

You can find love in the most extraordinary places
Hiding away so no one can trace them
You duck and weave through the maze of hatred,
And found yourself something but you kept it all

So why would I try?
When you’re not even remotely, remotely kind?

Madison and I took in the San Cisco show at Johnny Brenda’s last month.

MADISON AND I had a quick bite beforehand at KRAFTWORK down the street from JB’s. Amidst hipsters and over homemade ginger beer, we talked about people in life who appear to be, in Madi’s term, “flailing.” But we are not flailing; do I seem to be flailing? (She said I did not.) People who need to “take their blinkers off this time and maybe…”

Maybe you will find what you’re looking for; is heavenly the sky
Slow down and read the signs
Cause you’re going too fast and you’re leaving us behind.

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“So that butter––can’t be butter, then.”

Two weeks ago (April 2nd), Lauren and I attended the American Vegan Society‘s spring dinner at Atlantic Cape Community College’s student-run Carême‘s restaurant.

Nota bene: While Lauren and I are not strictly vegan (she and her hubby went out for steaks this past Saturday), we rather fancy ourselves omnivorous bon vivants.

Confession: I was a vegetarian for six years during high school and as an undergraduate. I started eating meat again the summer I spent with another Lauren in another city.

We found seats at a table featuring a retired couple and a man with his mother-in-law.

The first course was waiting for us.

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SPRING ROLL with pineapple drizzle

Second course was maybe my fav.

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PURÉE of CARROT SOUP with cardamom drizzle / sweat pea

A mixed green salad followed. Then the fourth course / MAIN.

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“SALISBURY STEAK” with tempura ring, mushroom demi, sweet potato whip, and snow peas

(This “steak” was comprised of lentils, tempeh, and potatoes.)

Coffee & dessert.

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DONUT with jam and vanilla bourbon whip

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“It’s margarine.”

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“Oh, Brother. Thank god for you.”

––my sister texts.

“Oh?”

“Yes. [With everything…] Then I think, but Rich understands me, so I’m ok.

My sister had lost her key. But she found one: another one.

“It is good you got a key. That seems significant somehow. Like that scene in Mrs Dalloway.”

…the aeroplane shot further away again, in a fresh space of sky, began writing a K, an E, a Y perhaps?

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“My friend Emily once told me that, when she was feeling depressed about her own life, But Rich Russell still loves me, and that she felt ok again.”

…he could not read the language yet; but it was plain enough, this beauty, this exquisite beauty, and tears filled his eyes as he looked at the smoke words languishing and melting in the sky and bestowing upon him in their inexhaustible charity and laughing goodness one shape after another of unimaginable beauty and signalling their intention to provide him, for nothing, for ever, for looking merely, with beauty, more beauty!

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A Statement of Some Purpose

In looking for a file just now, I stumbled across this statement of purpose I wrote up for graduate school. I was accepted to Oxford and to University College London that year; and chose UCL; for the same reason that Virginia Woolf might have chosen London over life in the country.

It’s strange, of course: I wonder if this is still the same statement of who I am now. Dani said, when we were having coffee the other day––”Yes, but you seem fairly stable,” meaning that she felt I was rather secure in myself; even if the world is still trying to make up its mind about me; and me about the world.

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            Elizabeth e-mails me to say, “I think I believe in astrology now. I want you to visit this web site and have your birth chart generated,” and so ok, ok––and after entering information such as name, time of birth, date of birth, sex, and so on, a five page so-called description of who I am appears. There is something beautifully intimate about the line that reads, “Rich Russell is eccentric, intelligent and lucid. Complex love life. He is happy in his imaginary world and thus is happy nowhere…”––because I take “his imaginary world” to mean the world of literature and of writing. And how could the real world ever hope to compete with that symbolic dreamscape?

            In my Honors Modern Fiction class at Northern Highlands Regional High School (Allendale, NJ), we read Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying in January. I like to wait until everything is a little colder and more desperate before starting upon my favorite book in the course. My high school students, I fear, bright as they are, are, in general, either turned off by Faulkner’s polyphonic prose or forced to merely feign interest on account of my much-professed admiration for the work. There are few students who will defend Addie Bundren in discussion, most finding her selfish, manipulating, and, as one student wrote in a recent paper, “noxious.” Maybe the students who sympathize with her most are also those who understand her well enough to know that for Addie, who thought language was so inadequate, that Addie would not want some prolix declaration of support. So the closest I have come to “rescuing” Addie, during my now three years teaching HMF, is a student’s journal entry admission that he cried after reading the last line of the book: when Anse replaces Addie with the new Mrs. Bundren. And I cried a little too, at his words this time and not Faulkner’s.

            I try to explain to my students Addie’s philosophy. “Isn’t it true,” I state, “that, what Addie says of love––if love exists, then there is no reason for us to have a word for it: that the word love would just be ‘a shape to fill a lack’ as she declares? Wouldn’t it be the same for something like happiness––that if we truly were happy we wouldn’t need to provide the term?” And now, as I reflect upon Addie and my students and that line from the birth chart, I’m struck by the possibility that I am content nowhere in life because I am most content in literature and in language: I am more happy in the word happy than I should ever be in a state of happiness.

            And so graduate school: my students first suggested the notion to me. I know the classroom is where I want to spend my waking life. I continue to realize that my life isn’t that of your typical Bergen County resident. Lunching at the Applebee’s in Paramus on a recent Saturday afternoon, the restaurant packed with shoppers talking about their cars or their clothes, my friend Amanda and I were having a heated chat concerning Beowulf, and the teaching of it in high school. “We have an obligation to our students. Our students (and, in fact, most people) outside of school might not pick up Beowulf on their own––” and then after pausing a moment to consider this, I conceded, “Well, I mean,––I read it on my own. But that was only because Seamus Heaney had written his new translation.” Amanda smiled and gently mentioned, “You do realize that you’re not most people, Rich. You do realize that you’re not normal, right?”

            “What makes you say that?” I asked, still upset over the prospect of a Brit Lit sans Beowulf. “Is it because I spent last Friday night watching three different film versions of Jane Eyre––or because I just joined JASNA [The Jane Austen Society of North America]?”

            Amanda smiled. “So what are you going to study?”

           I am still a student of twentieth century authors myself. That beautiful synthesis of expectation and despair that prevailed during the first half of the twentieth century––how would I give that up? But as a focus, I should like to explore British novelists between the wars [World War I, World War II]. In many ways, that period seems symptomatic of our current American circumstance––waiting for the next turn of the gyre, as it were.

            For in addition to a love of literature and a desire to pursue teaching at the college level, I want to enter graduate school for the same reason Jude Fawley wished to go to Christminster: to be a scholar. I want to return as a full-time student, having now occupied the other side of the teacher’s desk, and work towards my doctorate and a chance to serve the University. I can think of no place I would be as happy.

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Bangs & Beard Go to the Museum. Later that weekend: Men Who Brunch; A Most Uncharacteristic Peppermint Mocha.

Madison & I drift through the European wing on the second floor of the museum. Here, a little Dutch room, where I imagine myself very happy; in Het Scheepje (The Little Ship).

Madison seems to much prefer the English drawing room. Would Lord Shelburne have ever expected part of his home to end up here; in Philly?––his dining room shipped off to the Met in New York. The autopsy performed; and the house on Barclay Square chopped-up & sold to these Americans.

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In the ceremonial tea house, Madison tells me how she had wanted to spend time in a Buddhist ashram when she was a teenager; but we both know how those things go. So many projects abandoned; left like toys out on the drawing room floor. I almost trip over the new ukulele I’ve just purchased.

We descend a side staircase to have coffee & hot cider in the great hall, serenaded by loud, Cagey music. Should we have dinner somewhere (else)? We wander out into the night, which is cold but not unkind (a relief since I am wearing but a cardigan for comfort) and find ourselves outside the Eastern State Penitentiary, where Madison had her first date with the guy she’s seeing. There is a converted firehouse/restaurant across the way.

On the walk back to the car, I ask, “But you don’t regret the path your life has taken?” But we don’t regret: and what I have done, I would have to do again. We have made choices, at least, and that is to our credit. “And your new bangs!”––I remember to compliment. But me with my newly-cultivated beard; which seems to have accompanied a great sadness this month. I said to Devin and to Jessica: “Do you think the beard has effected such sadness or has my recent sadness only served to condition the beard?”

[Stray dialogue that doesn’t really seem to fit anywhere else.]

“Let us all live near (if not in) the museum.”

“Can we get a Xerox machine & make zines all day?”

“And if we can’t afford heat, we’ll just press ourselves up against the copier for warmth.”

[Let it be decided.]

Sunday I knot a bow tie, pull the jacket from my new three-piece suit & drive down to Cape May Point to meet Tyler for brunch. As I drive into the fog, I think, This is the end: of not only New Jersey but of all of what was/seemed to be. This is where we come to see what might be again; what we might imagine. A new world to amend for the inadequacies of the old one. (Oh, little ship!)

I order baked eggs, and immediately wonder if I will regret the baked eggs later. Tyler & I kibitz about life & what will be/why. Sometimes I wonder if we aren’t all just a bunch of awkward Harolds with our purple crayons, sketching out temporary shelters for ourselves as we move through life.

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Good, then, that I bought all of those new crayons earlier in the semester…

The fog has begun to lift by the time Tyler & I leave The Red Store.

[The curtain rises on the final scene.]

Dani meets me at Target, where I am musing among the cards. I thought about opening a stationery store last week. A non-stationary, stationery store; just boxes of cards set up in the back of a van; to drive from town to town selling cards; sending them to anyone who will listen.

But I forget to tell her this. There is much I neglect to tell.

We go to Starbucks and, most uncharacteristically for me, I order a Peppermint Mocha. It is good going down, but later I will be left with an aftertaste. “I get depressed around Christmas,” I admit to Dani. “Everyone seems so set on consumption to fill up their otherwise empty lives/relationships; getting snippy at salespeople. When all I can think about are the little match girls…”

Huddling outside the Consumer Squares, striking a match––once, twice––then the light going out forever.

All of us, just these little matches; striking & striking ourselves; to set something on fire––finally. To finally get something that will burn in us. For warmth, as it were.

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And so, the Crash.

My hard drive crashed this week; or last week maybe. I have been without a computer since then; frantically checking e-mail and Facebook when/where I am able to (the zombie voices that just keep calling if not cut back; if not culled), and––

At first, I felt very calm. At first, I might have even…

I told one of my classes yesterday: “I feel as if my house has just burned down around me. All of those memories that were there: all lost. I don’t know why I’m telling you this,” I admitted, and one girl smiled,* and I was glad that she did; because at first I might have even.

It is only now; when they handed it back to me today at the Apple store earlier: I felt the panic setting in. That I again had a computer and was meant to get back to it; to start downloading; to get scrolling and commence buffering; to make with the pinning and the bookmarking.

So I turn this thing on; some Byronic beasty come back to my little apartment to take up precious brooding space on the kitchen table. More like a stranger now, it seems; or like a lover with whom one has quarreled, and I’m not sure why you came back or if I know how to find a way back to you (or if I even want to, is the worst of it; see, I was rather happy this week, I now realize. Without you, when you weren’t here, I would wake up and drink my coffee in silence, and not while half-listening to NPR while checking e-mail, eyeing my bank statements and Google reader; you always seemed to demand too much of my attention, all the time, and I gave it to you, I will admit, because I didn’t think what I really wanted; and I think sometimes I just want to stand in the kitchen in my socks, in silence, and imagine a new world and not the one you are always so insistent upon showing to me; first thing, every morning; god, if you only knew how tiring it can be at times!).

And everyone always asks you, “Well, didn’t you back everything up?” But, no, not everything; not photos or music or files from this past year; this past year: wiped clean. But everyone will always ask you this. But it always felt like there would be more time. (No one ever sees the crash coming…) And even all those files stored on “the cloud” now seem so: uncertain. (I always liked building sandcastles closest to the waterline…)

And isn’t this what I have been wanting, in a way; have been waiting for? To just start over. To be forced to begin again. (With everything seeming so precious now.) Part of me wants to complete it: to go in and to start deleting more files. To delete everything down to one file; then even to that, then.

But here is my confession: when I got home from the, from the store this afternoon, I threw out half a bag of apples that were gathering dust in the fruit bowl. They were not so much bad as I deemed them no longer good. It felt so good to just throw them all out.

Not just sandcastles; what I loved most when I was little, was not the building of Legos, you see; when I would tear them apart with my teeth (is that why I now have this toothsome gap there), it was the taking-apart of the cities; that is what I loved most; that sometimes I think I built them just to un-build them better.

That everything goes and we let it; we hold fast, and then––

That is what I have learned from this. What I am remembering.

*When another student said, “I saw you drinking your coffee and reading your newspaper earlier in the campus center,” and I asked him, “Why didn’t you say hi?”––but he said he was in a rush. And the student who smiled when I told her about the crash, said to him, “I said hi when I saw him this morning;” and she did. But maybe we have forgotten how to; how to recover that.

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World Literature, Week 5

In my sections of World Lit this week, we’ll start looking at graphic narratives/novels. Students are reading Guy DeLisle’s Burma Chronicles for next week.

1. Literary terms to use when discussing comics/graphic narratives:
panel, a single box in which dialogue and/or pictures appear. We refer to the first panel, second panel, third panel, and so on on a given page.
caption, text that appears in a box giving scene or character descriptions.
dialogue, what the characters are “saying out loud,” indicated in word bubbles (bubbles with straight lines). Thought bubbles (what the characters are thinking to themselves) are indicated in “fluffy clouds.” Thoughts can also be indicated in the caption boxes.

Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud is an excellent source for anyone interested in learning more about this genre.

2. The appeal of graphic novels/narratives. (Note: “graphic” denotes that there are pictures, though some graphic narratives are also graphic.) How does the experience of reading graphic narratives (comics/graphic novels) differ from the way a traditional book/novel is read? Did you find it easier or more difficult to read the first half of Burma Chronicles and why? Do you feel more or less immersed in a graphic narrative than you do in a narrative that “only” includes words/text? Why has the graphic novel/narrative genre become so popular in recent years, including with members of “The Academy” (college students and professors)?

3. Graphic narratives of war. Read this article on Iraq war comics. (Be sure to look at the picture-excerpts from DMZ.) How is this allegory (and others like it) an effective means of discussing the Iraq War? (Or is it not?) You might also consider that The 9/11 Commission Report was adapted to this form. Why was it? Who would the audience be? Is this “appropriate”?

4. The influence of Maus. Read highlights from the interview with Art Spiegelman (or listen to the entire interview: 30 mins) on Maus, Maus II, and his new book MetaMaus. (Excerpts from the original Maus are available here.) What metaphor does Spiegelman use in his book Maus? Why has it been such an influential work? Is there anything from the interview with Spiegelman that you found especially interesting, poignant, or surprising?

5. One more (non-required) reading: “Plain Ink: Comics for the Developing World” (Andrew Price).

Next week we’ll look at Burma Chronicles!

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