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“A common complaint then among Time writers who found themselves stuck on a story was “this story just won’t write”—as if the story had a will of its own and was using it to resist being shaped into a coherent narrative. I may have used the phrase from time to time myself. The problem was mostly space. There on my desk was the raw material for one of the three or four stories in my section: a fifteen-page file from the main reporter on the story, a five-page file from the Washington bureau on the federal angle, three books that the researcher thought I might find useful, a fistful of previous Time files, and, of course, some clippings from the Times. From this, I was to produce a seventy-line piece that had the arc of a story rather than the “inverted pyramid” structure that was then the template for newspaper articles. (Since the news sometimes failed to conform to Time’s printing schedule, the paragraph containing the denouement of the story often began “At week’s end.”) Given the density of the seventy lines and the imperative to keep the story moving, there often seemed to be at least one highly relevant fact that simply didn’t fit. I pictured that left-out fact darting around to find an opening and being rebuffed by every paragraph it tried to squeeze into—like someone trying door after door in a desperate effort to board a thoroughly stuffed rush-hour subway. Sometimes, if I had until the next day to turn the story in, I’d head home, finding that the knot in the narrative came loose with the rhythmic clacking of the subway train.”—Calvin Trillin reflects on his experience working as a floater at TIME magazine in the early 1960s: http://nyr.kr/WIA50k
”When I was a child, my greatest dream was to find a box full of puppies. And every shoebox, every discarded Manhattan Mini Storage vessel had the potential to change my life…”
In this week’s issue, Lena Dunham reflects on her childhood longing for a dog, and her recent experience adopting her pet mutt, Lamby: http://nyr.kr/YuDNGa
Photograph by Robin Schwartz.
On obliviousness and teen relationships.
Klaine has happened so of course my dash is full of gifs and happiness. It’s also full of people going “they’re just teenagers” and “no one just falls in love randomly like that!” Both of those sentiments annoy the hell out of me. Why? Not because I’m a die-hard Klaine shipper (though I am), but because they are completely dismissing entire categories of people.
(Cut for length and possible bullying, assault, and suicide triggers toward the end.)
How did things get this way? History, and thanks
Asskaban inspired me to say something about beginnings.
My parents were good people, yet our house got increasingly chaotic and embarrassingly messy as I grew up. I’m sure my mother was very depressed. Eventually I wasn’t allowed to invite people over. As my mother got older, she developed Alzheimer’s, and it got SO much worse. Cleaning that place up after her death was ….. no words.
So that is the hell I knew, much more intimately than I ever wanted to. My little island of neatness in my half of the bedroom (shared with a messy sister) didn’t make much difference.
Eventually I got work cleaning for some of the women I babysat for, and was good at it. When I moved out on my own, I figured I could do that and support myself, so I did. Not the smartest move of my life, but it worked until I married, and I kept some of my favorite clients until late into my first pregnancy a couple of years later.
Our first little house was old and hard to make attractive, but we didn’t have much stuff, so it was easy to clean. THIS house started out full of stuff we had to store, and I only got more stuff even after selling most of the excess stored crap. Sooo easy to get moar stuff in this culture! Cheap, too. Garage sales, junk shops, people give you stuff, kids drag stuff home — damn!
Between having three great kids, and having quite a few other people living with us over the next 30 years (including a cousin who became a beloved son), we have picked up lots of possessions. And during these busy years, my good cleaning habits disappeared, as other jobs took my time and attention.
Now it’s just me and my husband, and I want this place clean and attractive. It helps that we have money to spend on things now, and hubby is willing to do so.
Today was just a basic vacuum and dust day, which is nothing to write home about, but it is done, with extra rests since I had oral surgery last week. And I did take the Magic Eraser to a few groady spots on the linoleum. That will help until I have the courage to strip the old wax off (horrors).
Unfuckyourhabitat has been a huge inspiration to me in the last few weeks. I wish my mother had been surrounded by such supportive, helpful people when she sank into depression and let the house go to hell. I wish I had found this 30 years ago when I started to let things slide, as well. But I have you NOW. So rather than losing hope, and running out of enthusiasm, I will continue in my quest to make this place pretty, and easy to care for.
According to the Organization of American Historians, “all people have been significant actors in human events…history is not limited to the study of dominant political, social, and economic elites…It also encompasses the individual and collective quests of ordinary people for a meaningful place for themselves in their families, in their communities, and in the larger world.”
With the epic truthfulness of that quote in mind, I would like to hear about your personal histories. What historical events did you or your parents or your grandparents live through? How did they interact with it?
Although I love sitting down and reading works of academic history, sometimes it’s even more fascinating to just sit down and talk to people and discover how their lives, and the lives of their family, intertwine with what we now think of as historical events. We all know that they happened, but hearing about them in terms of ordinary people just makes them come alive in a whole new way.
I’ll get the ball rolling with a story of the events my maternal grandmother lived through. She was born in Krakow in 1928 to a wealthy Jewish family. They had a nice life there, and even after Poland was divided between Germany and the Soviet Union (as a stipulation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact), most of them weren’t too worried; they were on the Russian side of the border. My great-grandfather, however, was very worried, and though the rest of the family assured him that Hitler would never reach them in Warsaw, he decided not to take any chances.
Less than a week before that part of Poland was captured by the Germans, he illegally crossed the border into Lithuania along with his wife, sisters, father, and daughter (my grandmother). As for the family they left behind, they were all killed. I only know the specifics of what happened to three of them: one died two days after liberation, one swallowed a cyanide capsule in the train which would have taken her to a camp, and another was drowned along with a boatload of other Polish Jews.
After crossing the border into Lithuania, they crossed into Latvia, and proceeded to make their way across Europe, somehow staying about a week ahead of the German army the entire time. After about two months, they made their way to what was then known as the British Mandate of Palestine. They stayed there for nearly two years while trying to attain a US Visa. By 1941 they had begun to fear that Hitler’s army would reach them, so they fled south and found themselves stranded in Cairo. Italy bombed Tel Aviv—where they had been living—two days later.
In Cairo, they managed to gain passage onto a British controlled Polish ship carrying Italian POWs to Sudan, and sailed down to South Africa. It was in South Africa that they attained US Tourist Visas, and made their way to the United States. They had to re-enter the country from Canada to begin the legal citizenship process after their Visa expired, and they settled just north of Manhattan in Westchester County.
If you are wondering how a bunch of Polish Jews in managed to get the Visas necessary to gain entry to all the Western European countries they crossed through in 1939, the answer is that my great-grandfather probably bribed an official or three.
Now it’s your turn. If you’d like to share some stories of the historical events that you or your family members experienced, then just reblog this post, and add your story. I look forward to reading them!
Everything I've checked out of the library since February 22nd, 2011
Record 1 of 29
TITLE The Scottish clans & their tartans.
PUB INFO Edinburgh : W. & A. K. Johnston,
Record 2 of 29
AUTHOR Cassagne, Jean-Marie.
TITLE 101 French idioms : understanding French language and culture
through popular phrases / Jean-Marie Cassagne ; illustrated by
PUB INFO Lincolnwood, Ill., USA : Passport Books, c1995.
Choir of Angels
Little pieces of sunrise filter through my window as I lay in bed. It’s a cloudy day and the light is soft and muted. As the edges of my dream fade away, I am sorry to see it go, like crossing paths with an old friend and then having to continue on, not knowing when you will meet again.
I am lost in the moment, considering how quiet of a morning it is, when suddenly I realize that I am surrounded by sound. A low, faint buzzing is all around. And as I tune into the sound, it grows louder, richer, more ubiquitous. And suddenly I am drawn back in time, further back than I’ve traveled in quite a while.
I am a young boy, maybe four or five, lying on the soft carpet of my room. I’m in the little nook by the door, where I can be surrounded by three walls at once. My eyes are closed and I am focusing, listening hard, trying to tune into the ambient sound of space itself.
My first encounter with this space-sound was quite lucky. I noticed, while playing with my toys and books, that it was rather loud in my room, a deep humming filled the air. It wasn’t as if the noise had just started; I just had not been aware of it, too preoccupied by my own thoughts.
So I lay in my nook, trying to hear that sound again, and I listen to all the noises in the air. The clinking of a ceramic mug. A lawnmower in the distance. A dog bark. Even the house itself has a droning murmur. I wonder if perhaps that is all I heard, the mutterings of our house. And then suddenly, like a great animal emerging from the quiet forest, the sound descends upon me. It is loud and full of depth, like a rin gong, and like a “singing bowl” the sound escalates from a low chime to a loud, rich hum. It is wondrous and terrifying.
I rush off to tell my dad about the sound; he must know about it and I hope he can explain it to me. He listens to my story and tells me that sometimes we can hear the blood being pumped through our ear, and that is why when we hold our ear to a seashell, it sounds like the ocean. He calls the phenomenon “ringing of the ears.”
I was satisfied with the explanation, and went on with my childhood discoveries, but I still found it fascinating to be quiet sometimes and allow my ears to ring. It could be so loud at times, and other times I did not even notice it. I began to become aware that the hearing was not an absolute sensory device, and that it could be influenced by the focus of the mind.
I later learned that sight was just as fallible. By focusing my eyes a certain way, I could make a small object in the foreground vanish from an otherwise intact scene. By waving my hand quickly under florescent lights, it looked like there were multiple hands. Lying on the floor looking at a ceiling fan, I realized that I could make the blades move fast, slow, or even backwards.
My uncle, a photographer, told me that the reason that propellers in movies look like they accelerate one direction and then start going backwards is because the camera has a certain frame rate, and the position of a blade relative to its position in the last frame gets to the point where the propeller turns almost a full revolution between frames. He told me that our eyes worked the same way. We sometimes think of our vision as a continuous feed, but the way our brain processes visual information is picture by picture, like a movie camera.
Jump forward through time, and I’m on an airplane, high above the clouds and a world of whitewashed blue and endless horizon. Sleepy, I let my mind drift and listen to the soothing drone of the jet engine. In my mind is an Inuit song that a friend spent an afternoon teaching me, and it is freshly etched into my memory. As I drift off, I realize that the engine pitch starts to change; it goes up and down like a melody. It becomes the song that I had on my mind. I focus my mind and allow the song to continue. I have difficulty controlling the sound at first, but after a while, I can change the tempo, volume, and clarity until it sounds like voices singing. The voices sound like a choir of angels.
I change songs in my head, and the voices fade from my mind. Starting over I work my way into the new song, and I’m much quicker this time. Soon enough, I have the melody down, and shortly after, the choir is back and their voices are loud and strong.
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,” the angels were singing a hymn.
If I tried to go into a verse that I didn’t know, the voices would mumble, sort-of, or it was more like I didn’t hear them correctly. Eventually, I could just let it go, not give it conscious effort, and the song would continue. I could stop it easily if I wanted by focusing my mind on something other than my hearing, by being drawn back into the world of humans sitting in airplane.
But since that day, flying in an airplane has forever changed. I’ve gotten faster at starting the process, and I can usually get a song going in a matter of minuets. There seems to be some constraints to the limits of what I can hear. The higher voices are much easier to hear than lower voices, though sometimes I can get the lower tones to play a sort of heavenly bass.
It’s beautiful in a way. Not only the music, but the act of creation through deception. It’s wondrous and terrifying.
We come to know this world through our senses. Empiricism is the foundation of our sciences, our epistemology. But when our senses can be so easily manipulated by our mind, and not only our mind manipulated by our senses, we must consider that the only tools we have capable of telling us about the world must be subject to scrutiny.
But for the most part, our senses tend to be reliable. While my self-induced hallucination was an interesting experiment on how the senses could be deceived by the mind, for the most part I trust my senses to inform me of the surrounding world. When I’m talking to someone, I don’t wonder if they are only illusions created by my mind and given the false impression of sight and sound. Slipping into solipsism simply because the senses can be fooled only takes us further from reality.
But I do think that it is important to recognize that our perceptions of reality can be influenced by the processes of the mind and not only by the qualities of reality itself.
In one of my university classes, we read a study about how people viewed the role of scientists around Tahoe in the last three decades. During this time, Tahoe was faced with the difficult task of maintaining the natural environment of the lake and surrounding area and developing in the wake of increased popularity and tourism. The study rated people’s trust in scientists against a number of variables, and found that people who had more to gain from development trusted scientists statistically less than those who had less to gain.
During this time, the arguments for preservation were mainly based on ecological science. And since preservation was opposed to development, those who favored development trusted scientists less. That is to say that people’s perception of environmental science as a valid body of knowledge decreased when it was to their economic benefit not to believe in environmental science.
While this study had somewhat low sample sizes and response rates and is itself subject to scrutiny, the implications are not hard to believe. We very well may tailor our perception of reality to what perception suits our best interest. This is a terrifying prospect indeed.
In my mind, the choir of angels is as “real” as the sounds I would hear by plugging into an MP3 player, although there are a number of clues about the experience, such as my ability to end the sensory experience abruptly by changing the focus of my thoughts, that should alert me to skepticism about the validity of the experience.
If our tenets about other aspects of reality are also subject to manipulation by the mind, it is in our interest, if we seek truth, to have an active mechanism to check our own beliefs about reality and compare them against the body of knowledge available to us. Our understanding of reality should be revisable and constantly held accountable to new information. In this sense, our sense of reality should be an ongoing process. Recognition of our mind’s fallibility is an important step to achieving this process.
There is so much beauty in the world around us and in our dreams. There is beauty in our stories and legends, and there is beauty in our understanding of physics. We should not have to sacrifice one beauty for the other, and I imagine others like myself have been drawn to explore the mind’s ability to create fantasy. I enjoy listening to the choir of angels. I love dreaming. I enjoy exploring the workings of my own mind. The mind’s ability to create its own sensory experiences is at the heart of creativity, and that is something I value deeply.
But understanding reality as it exists outside of my mind is also remarkable in its own way. And it certainly has been useful in advancing our knowledge and technology.
I don’t think we need a dichotomy between the scientist and the artist. Scientists should be able to dream, and artists should be able to appreciate objectivity. Can we really expect an individual to be one or the other? As individuals, we must have some sort of relativism in our understanding of others. We can see the beauty of each other’s fantasies.
But at the same time, to allow our mind’s illusions to dictate the way we make broad decisions about a reality that involves other people requires an unhindered knowledge of that reality. If we can have the mental facilities to recognize which of our perceptions are based on empirical evidence and which are influenced by our subjective mind, we may do better in dealing with the real issues we face.
Far above the clouds, I am happy to listen to my choir of angels. But when it comes to making decisions, I hope to have the mental facilities to allow them to disappear.
An Unconscious Decision.
Hot raspberry lips
Run their course over his chest
In a jungle of sweaty sheets
A kitchen gone amuck
The novice embarks on a
All for smiles and gratitude-
A classic case of carnal desires
Permeating common sense
I wonder if he remembered me
When looking into her eyes.
i used to have convictions
i used to know my exact opinion on: illegal immigration, religion, LMFAO, seafood, traveling, gender, the red hot chili peppers, my sisters, weddings, gay marriage, racism, abortion, rape, Toms, feminism, animal rights, drinking, drugs, french boys, veganism, oxfords, the UC systems, Cosmo, reddit.com, yelp/yelping, Facebook, nicholas sparks, lip rings, Rachael Ray, psychiatry, recycling, soulmates, “BFF”s, and casual sex.
but i’m much much much more open-minded/ambivalent/confused/lost now! YAY! (?!) does this mean i’m over my im a teenager so i know everything phase? or does it mean i’m totally spineless? i mean, i’m pretty sure its normal. but howwww normal? and to what extent?
i wish i could make some kind of infographic to represent how my opinions have changed in the last few years. you know..like:
On weddings: In high school DGAF level= 11/10. Now DGAF level = -11/10, def. on the GAF side now…
[I’m still convinced I’m not entirely a visual learner but visuals would be nice here, amiright?]
The Alien in the Playground
You can spot her from a mile away. The one kid playing alone. Lost in her own little world. She clearly wears a mixture of hand-me-downs and homemade clothing when all the other children are wearing clothes, relatively new, from the shops.
Some other children are approaching her. Even from this distant vantage point, you can tell their intent is not friendly. They are all bigger than her. Together, they could beat her into a pulp, but violence is not their pastime right now.
“Hey Weller!” The ringleader startles the girl out of her private reality. “You’re weird.”
This is clearly meant to make her cry. It doesn’t.
She folds her arms like the woman in I Dream of Genie. “Ah, Earthling, you’ve discovered my secret.” Two index fingers quickly become antennae. “Beep beep.” Now one hand becomes a telephone. “Beam me up, Scotty, I’m on the lam!” And now the little girl is laughing at them.
The year was 1979. That little alien was me. And that was the only time I could publicly laugh at the bullies.
They worked out what to do about it, later. They passed close by and punched me in the gut so quickly that if the imaginary observer blinked, they would miss it. They took out their anger on me because I was a natural target.
Skinny, undersized, bespectacled. Clearly from a lower income background than them. And, as they said, weird.
I was proud to be weird. I revelled in my freakiness. I didn’t think it made me special, or above them, per se. I just couldn’t understand why they would want to miss out.
Being a weirdo was fun - well, except for being bullied every day. It seemed to me that the normals [or, as I later learned to call them, mundanes] were missing out on a wider range of experience because those experiences were deemed “weird”.
Only weirdoes enjoyed Doctor Who. Because Science Fiction of any kidney was “too weird” for the mundanes. Only freaks watched Star Trek. But it was okay to like Superman because he was mainstream.
I knew much more than my contemporaries because I was interested in things. I voluntarily watched documentaries. I stayed up late to watch Star Trek [This being some years before VCR’s became affordable to my blue-collar household] and spent my free time in the library reading books. Big, thick books. With hardly any pictures.
It was their own fault, that last bit. If they hadn’t devoted so much effort to singling me out for bullying, I would never have retreated to the library in the first place. The library was a small area where rowdy behaviour was frowned upon and there was at least one teacher close to hand at all times. The library was my safe place. I could hole up in a corner and read the words that sent me to another reality.
In high school, I was worse. Skinny, bespectacled and weedy. The kid who always put their hand up to answer a question and who could talk to the teachers on their own level. I was the one girl in the school who passed out of it still a virgin. Still unattached to any males there.
To me, it hardly took any effort at all to avoid the boys my age. They were all… dumb.
Any attempt at conversation with them inevitably lead to the thing seemingly on everyone’s mind but mine: sex. Everyone in grade ten [that’s 14-15 year-olds, folks] or older had to lose their virginity or be ostracised. Having sex meant turning into an adult.
That’s what they told me.
That’s what I refused to believe.
I did not feel ashamed. Nor did I become embarrassed when they tried to ridicule me for being a virgin. I had made a choice and my choice was different to theirs.
“But everyone’s doing it,” they would cry.
“Not me,” said I.
“WHYYYYYYYY?” was the inevitable wail. “Don’t you want to be an adult?”
I tried to explain, when it began, that adulthood was more than connecting genetalia. By the third time, I gave up. They clearly weren’t listening.
The mundanes chanted, “Get a life,” like the freaks chanted “One of us” in the movie of the same name. What they meant was, “Do everything we do and stop being weird.” They wanted me to light up a smoke, chug a beer, and open my legs to the first numb-knuckle with an erection.
I knew, even then, that it would not work out. They would still deride me. “Sell-out”, “wimp”, “slut” and “whore” were just a few things they would call me.
A group of boys approached me once, on the way to a class. There were at least five of them. The spokesgrunt said, “Hey Weller. We heard you do it.” By “do it”, they mean “have sex”.
I started to edge around the cluster.
“Do you do it?”
My God, what irresistible charm. I should have dropped my knickers, spread my legs and screamed, “Take me! Take me now!” At least, that’s what they seemingly believed.
I laughed. Loud and long, and continued on my way to the classroom. I was completely unafraid because this group had chosen to proposition me not five meters from a populated staff room. True adults were within and no doubt listening to the exchange.
Less than a week later, I was a “frigid whore” according to the sex-obsessed masses. I rolled my eyes at the oxymoron and continued on my way.
Less than a month later, I had someone ask me to my face if I was a lesbian.
I ignored them. I retreated to safe places and put myself in a survival mindset. If I could make it to University, they would not follow me.
I did. None of the mundanes were there. Especially not in my study zone, which was computers and technology. The geeks and weirdoes were here. At last, I belonged somewhere.
It’s hard to shake the habits of school and high-school. I had learned to become invisible and laugh at myself because everyone else did. At least that way, I said the joke first.
And when I found someone who thought I was worth something, who loved me for everything I am, who saw me even when I inadvertently blended into the wallpaper… it broke me.
I had a mental breakdown at age nineteen because someone thought I was worth love.
The mundanes, for all my appearances of ignoring them, had got to me. Tell someone they’re ugly for long enough and they’ll believe it. Tell someone they’re worthless… and they stop trying to fight.
My thinking broke into two parts. The dark side, that had learned to hate me and cling to the bad things, and the positive side. The positive side repeatedly said, “Look. There’s someone who loves you.” Or, “Hey, something shiny.” Life is a constant battle between the “up” part of my thinking and the perpetual downer who lives in the back of my mind.
I’m not manic-depressive. Not enough to medicate, anyway. I’m not classically OCD. I may be somewhere on the ASD rainbow, because I can recognise myself in the diagnostic checklist.
What I am, is weird.
I enjoy it.
Try it sometime.