Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Soylent Green

Finally saw this, thirty-five years (?) after it came out. I remember hearing about it as a kid, and realizing, without exactly being told, that I was not allowed to see it. Two astonishing things right off:
* They talk about the "greenhouse effect," and talk about it like it's old news.
* It's a pretty good movie.
The downsides of the movie are the usual treatment of women as belongings ("furniture"), meant to show "how shockingly badly women are treated in the dystopian future" but really meant as a slap to contemporary feminism and a fantasy for neanderthal 70s men; also the always enigmatic presence of Charlton Heston, representing a protestor against the ghastly future his real-life politics would bring about. In these old films I watch him speak in sentences, and move more or less as a person moves, and wonder how and when his mind snapped like a brittle twig. Is he just acting like a normal human who is an actor?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Dr. May

Brian May is finishing his Ph.D. in astronomy!


This is clearly the fastest spring quarter in history. It feels like I've skipped a whole chunk of time. I remember things from the middle of the quarter, teaching Jane Austen for instance, but I don't feel like I was there. Teaching was great (only three more classes!), so maybe it was the time-flying-because-having-fun thing. But I've also been oppressed by spring and the approach of summer. Since my father got sick last June and died last August, I feel like summer is when bad things happen, and spring is the ramp-up to disaster--when one stupidly looks forward to vacation and long, warm days, only to get slugged in the stomach and dragged over hot coals and then thrown off a cliff. In short, I'm having mixed feelings. Because the thrill of summer is still there. When I was a kid I used to cross off the days left till school was out--I'd start with 181 on my dry-erase board and X them out, until, as I approached 1 day, the numbers got bigger and bigger and exclamation marks started appearing.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Point Reyes on Sunday evening possibly the best place on earth. Pale green-blue light, fog rolling in...and visitors rolling out. Just a few cars in the parking lot when we headed into the woods. This must be something like how the locals (and the animals?) feel when all the suburban riff raff file out at the end of the weekend. Like you really do own the place. Unfortunately we, being suburban riff raff, had to turn around, too. Visits like that make me really wonder how anyone can live in a city, or a suburb, where there's constant noise (even the low-level hum of lights, computers, not to mention distant and nearby cars). Of course someone has to do it--most of us, in fact--or there would be no Point Reyes.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Learning about life from literature

At the O. Henry prize reading at Kepler's last night, an audience member mentioned that Lorrie Moore recently said she'd learned more about life from reading literature than from life itself. Or something like that. Anyway the writers (Andrew Altschul, Jan Ellison, and Susan Straight) generally expressed surprise at that comment. Good writing comes from living life, they said; although they also suggested that reading teaches you how to give shape and power to your stories. It's an easy notion to dismiss (especially out of context)--here's another bookworm who's never gone out and embraced real life. But I wonder if the emphasis should be on the nature of learning. Without literature we might not have the tools to reflect well on our experiences. Why is it that Freud turned to Oedipus, not to mention the Sandman, to explain key psychoanalytic concepts?

Friday, May 11, 2007

Virginia Woolf and Buddhism

I have read and loved Woolf for 20+ years, but I never understood the influence of eastern religion on her writing. Now that I know something about Buddhism I see that To the Lighthouse is all about impermanence, trying to stay present, trying to be the island in the raging sea (which is both time, and our thoughts). I did some web research and found this article on Woolf and eastern "mystical" religions. Though she resisted acknowledging these influences, they clearly came to her through the strong interest within her circle (T.S. Eliot, for instance), through William James, and through Buddhist books she had in her library. According to the same article, she had mystical experiences during periods of nervous exhaustion, when she was able to view herself from outside.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

On succeeding

It's amazing how our culture equates aging with failure. But the only alternative is dying young. If you're old, you've succeeded.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

It is not difficult to disguise yourself

Stanislavsky, from Building a Character:

Externally it is not difficult to disguise yourself. I once had something of the sort happen to me; I had an acquaintance I knew very well. He talked with a deep bass voice, wore his hair long, had a heavy beard and bushy mustache. Suddenly he had his hair cut and shaved off his whiskers. From underneath there emerged rather small features, a receding chin, and ears that stuck out. I met him in this new guise at a family dinner, at the house of some friends. We sat across the table from one another and carried on a conversation. Whom does he remind me of? I kept saying to myself, never suspecting that he was reminding me of himself. In order to disguise his bass voice my friend used only high tones in speaking. This went on for half the meal and I talked with him as though he were a stranger.

And here is another case. A very beautiful woman I knew was stung in the mouth by a bee. Her lip was swollen and her whole mouth was distorted. This not only changed her appearance so as to make her unrecognizable, it also altered her pronunciation. I met her accidentally and talked to her for several minutes before I realized she was one of my close friends (6).

Thursday, May 03, 2007

But enough about me

This blog now allows comments!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007