28 November 2014

0 hilarifying

thanksgiving occurred in the middle of what is coming to known as my End of Term Spiral of Doom. this ridiculous glut of marking and deadlines, so plentiful that i can't think about this afternoon's looming crisis until first dealing with this morning's.

on the plus side, thanksgiving was properly celebrated. with PIES.

i will say this, it is hard to have multiple thanksgiving meals in a day and be a productive, intellectual human being. you really are meant to lie comatose somewhere on a couch.

i called my mum last night and i thought she was weeping. it was just that she was happy and tired and full.

i no longer correctly identify the symptoms of my homeland's best holiday being a success.

i'm giving a paper tomorrow at what i'm slooooooowly realizing is a rather big deal conference. it is not yet written. this is a sign of both the state of things, my tenuous grasp on them and either my excessive confidence in myself (i only minimally stressed by what should be horrifying situation by any account) OR my egregious state of denial.

on the plus side, there was pie in the library and pie at dinner. and- as my nails dry, the laundry swirls (there won't be time to take it out until tonight), the realization that i still am not entirely sure what i'm teaching in the two classes that occur in less than 4 hours settles in- there is pie for breakfast.

i've always been a cake person. i'd never before this week realized the narcotizing effect of pie. they are enormous.

24 November 2014

22 November 2014

0 FJ: 22 november 1963: jackie (pics), koestenbaum (words)

President Kennedy gallery
“There’s a metaphoric equivalence between our retrospective glances toward Jackie in 1963 and Jackie’s own movement onto the back of the car, an instant obsessively replayed. Continue reading 

12 November 2014

0 wwi

because how often does one get to be alive for a centenary and because ideas of commemoration crop up in my work, i've been doing what is perhaps best described as an immersion in world war 1 this week.

remembrance sunday service and the 2 minute silence there. another 2 minute silence and a concert of war music on 11/11. a two day conference on the literature of conflict today and tomorrow.

in case you missed it, that's a grand total of four minutes of organized silence over three days.

it's a good thing i'm leaving town on friday as i'm thinking any more beyond the one day i've left to commemorating might well put me over the edge.

for it is, perhaps not surprisingly, a wee bit intense. more song and poetry and conflict than i can reasonably handle in one week. now we know my threshold.

but it's interesting too.

i was at the british library for the 2 minute silence on tuesday. they made the announcement, we paused in our work for what- i swear- was not more than a minute and a half, then they played an original recording recording of a poet, whose name i didn't catch, reading his was poem, whose name i also didn't catch. all of which was (a) quite moving and (b) odd.

because we do not do this in america, at least not that i remember. there are moments of silence, but i feel like they're always happening on tv and not in real life. this feels somehow more... enforced isn't the right word but it's a word adjacent to it... here, at the level of the everyday.

in the reading room, laptops were shut for the observance. would people in america close their laptops in order to remember??

they did the two minute silence on the tube too. a friend recounted how they came over the PA and the car quieted, so totally it was eerie. and then the automated message sounded, puncturing the silence to herald the next station.

even as we remember, life goes on...

10 November 2014

0 70% chance

jackie's sister, to whom i've written many letters in which i have dropped All of the Names, lives in paris. and so, in a hail mary pass, i wrote one last letter in which i dropped the last of the names i have to drop in addition to all of the other names i've dropped previously and- coup de grâce- i actually addressed her by the title of "princess" on the envelope of the letter wherein i announce i am coming to paris and BEG, unabashedly, for a few moments in The Presence.

she has long since ceased replying to these exercises in personal humiliation, so i do not expect a response.




the countess called me back.

actually, the countess and i played phone tag and then we finally connected, both of us on mobiles, both of us inside homes with bad reception so that the call was dropped three times, whilst my parents simultaneously tried to initiate a skype call with me.

why does professionalism always seem so amateur? why do all of the things collide so that, in accepting a call from a countess, i am wearing leggings as pants and declining skypes from debo and garebear?

somehow the picture of how i imagine i would look at the moment of receipt of a phone call from a countess is absolutely nothing like the reality. at the very least, you would expect reasonably good reception. i mean, come on.

anyway. 70% chance.

that's my prognosis for the possibility of my actually getting 30 minutes of the countess's time on saturday or sunday morning or monday afternoon, whilst i am in paris this weekend.


because she asked what i could possibly be writing about when everything has already been written and i told her i am writing about stories and she said there are no stories to tell and i said i only need thirty minutes and then she said that if i came on saturday or sunday morning and the weather were nice, we could walk along the seine.

70% chance that when i call on friday to set a time and date, this will be real. them's are the chances. we shall see...

04 November 2014

0 tonya harding

a month ago, i was asked to do a q & a for the biographers group newsletter. one of the questions: who will your next project be about?

for the first time, beyond this blog and a small circle of friends, i spilled the beans.

tonya harding.

that q & a has not yet been published. that answer is not yet totally real.

yesterday, in a cafe, we're talking about networking machinations in advance of an application for a post-doc when N says, oh but you're going to tell them about the harding project, right? (N is very excited about my triptych.) and i say, no, no, i'm like three years away from being able to write that book at least. and N looks at me warily as if she knows something i do not yet know, and she says, i think you should at least mention it. say, hey, i have this other project. would you be more interested in that? 

and i say, yeah, yeah, ok, i'll mention it, mostly to get her off my back, because i know myself and i know i'm three years (AT LEAST) away from tonya harding and i know we have to emotionally prepare ourselves to go to this event we've organized.

and because tonya harding feels like a scary place.

here's the thing. truthbomb. not yet two weeks ago, i found at that my student loans end the very minute i turn in my dissertation. a terror that is still a year and half away but which- with that revelation- came zooming six months closer. and so i spent the weekend manically producing this article about jackie and first ladies and silence, an endeavor that felt more like an exorcism than an exercise in rigorous thought and which totally destroyed my back. the end result is a draft of a paper that is either brilliance incarnate or totally ridiculous. that remains to be seen.

upon preparing to move to england, i wrote a lot about the trapeze. and about how, methodically, it seemed like the safety nets were being removed. the funny thing about moving is that it takes ages to feel at home, and just about the very minute you do, that homeyness gets shaken up by something like the notification that your loans are going to end the very moment you are taxed to the maximum because you're handing in a ginormo document into which you've been directing all your energies for three years. and so you are emotionally bereft and neither in a position to leave the country or support yourself financially. awesome.

the nets are being taken away again. only there's a year and a half of notice this go-round. which is both for the best and the absolute worst.

my impulse is always to go for the safe bet. the grants, the funding, the long term academic project that will produce something interesting and ground-breaking in the field of obituary and aging studies, two fields that don't even really yet exist. so it's dangerous in a way. even though it's entirely dependent upon timing and luck and might still wind up with me in debtor's prison or at my parents', it's still a career. it's defined. there's a template. there is a path.

there is, right now, nothing that feels nearly so dangerous as tonya.  

tonya is the total absence of a path. because tonya is basically the breaking of everything i've spent the last twenty years learning how to do. the breaking and then the putting together of the pieces in a new way. tonya is painful. tonya hurts. not as much as hillary, but close. you guys, TONYA WILL GET ME SO MANY EYEROLLS.

you would think that i would've learned my lesson from that one time when i sat in a bar and told a guy i barely knew that the one thing i knew i would never ever do was to get a phd. the very day before i got the email about the program i am, at present, in.

you would think that i would've learned to shut my stupid mouth. that, in saying these things, making these giant claims, i only open up the most dangerous roads. and that, once opened, i can only walk down them.

there is nothing now that feels so dangerous as tonya.

nothing that feels so dangerous as trying to survive whilst writing about tonya.

yesterday, i sat in that cafe and i said, no, no, i'm like three years away from being able to write that book at least. because i am a terrible coward. because there are books that i do not have the courage to write. books upon which i fear i will not be able to build a life.

we tell stories in order to live, the wise, wise joan didion once wrote. and yet it is hard to live upon just stories.

there is a fork in the road. it's a year and a half away, but i can see it there in the distance.

there is nothing now that feels so dangerous as tonya harding. i am not ready. that book's at least three years off.

we tell stories in order to live. yes, we do, but we writers, we tell stories because they come after us. because we have no fucking choice. they hunt us down, as we lug the groceries home, trying not to further our injure our aching back, they hit with such ferocity that we have to breathe deeply and say no, no, i am not ready aloud to ourselves only to, in the next moment, relent. to stop in the middle of the street and pull out the paper and the pen and write down the two sentences that hit the mind like a bolt of lightening three blocks ago.

two sentences in the morning.

three pages tonight.

tonya harding is coming to get me. i am not ready. and i am not sure that matters.

because honestly, there is no fork in the road. there is no choice. when the story comes to get you, when the story is ready, when the story pushes through the resistance of anxiety and skin and bone and the story lands in the very core of your heart, when the story becomes an integral part of your own depths, there is no choice there. there is only a relenting, a giving in, acceptance. and so you pull out your pen and your paper and you put the opening two sentences on the page and you tell yourself, we are going to go here. because you cannot not go. the story bears down. the story picks you so that you might give it life.

0 #juxtaposition

02 November 2014

0 if it wasn't this it would be something else

i'm working on an article for an academic journal. this is sprung directly from the realization a little over a week ago that my loans end theveryminute i hand in my dissertation, a realization that was very much "worst case" seeing as i have to remain in london to defend it and with which i have been grappling by turning my energy to getting an article placed with a journal and obsessing over my plan of attack for procuring a post-doc with a project on aging and obituaries. 

build-up to the fact that yesterday i skipped the library and stayed home and worked for twelve hours on this article. 

and, today, stepping from the bed, my back made it clear that i was going to pay. a very specific middle part of the back for which there appear to be no yoga cures on youtube. 

which is how we wind up here: me, at the desk, still writing, having fashioned a back support system from a green pashmina.