Monday, September 28, 2009

Accomplishment of the Day

Today I avoided thinking about Boy for five hours straight. Hurrah! I don't know how you romantic types happen to get anything done at all. Thank heavens I'm a late bloomer, or I never would have made it into graduate school.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

"Gaustronaut"


Sometimes you say something stupid in class. Sometimes you say something stupid that makes you bring a cake next time.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

On Pranks

For some reason (probably because of my incessant discussion of my nasty toenail), my roommates have decided to pull a prank on me.

This incident caused me to reflect on what the appeal is to me of a really good prank. It occurs to me that pranks are just like gifts, except for the fact that they are irritating. Spencer's signaling theory says that sometimes the worth of something isn't intrinsic (like getting a rhinestone-encrusted blender), it's more what that thing signifies (that the person knew you always wanted a rhinestone-encrusted blender). Just as this works for gifts, I think this theory can be applied to pranks. I'm flattered that my roommates knew me well enough to wallpaper my room with pictures of conservative pundits. I'm thrilled that they knew I hate touching cotton balls. I'm still finding puffs in my sheets or in the toes of my shoes or in my pencil jar, but I remain thrilled. It's the little irritations that really mean so much in a relationship.

It's the thought that counts.

Monday, September 14, 2009

On the big toe nail of my right foot

The toenail has got to go, I'm afraid. I dropped a full bucket of water on it in the summer, on the way to water some plants and while it hurt like the devil, I couldn't foresee that it would turn so black that I had to put several layers of nail polish over it or that, finally, it would start to die and come off from the left edge.

This is, of course, disgusting. What could be a worse topic on conversation than the moribund nail of one's foot? And yet.

I'm fascinated by this process, inspecting my toe nightly, thinking of it flapping slightly when I swim, choosing my footwear judiciously. I'm like my own science project. I haven't had a piece of me defect of its own will since I lost my twelve-year-old molars. And what's more, not only is the dead drying out and yellowing and flaking (in that last description, I'm certain I lost any readers I might have had, so can comfortably write for myself), but my old nail is also being pushed up by the regenerative forces of my own body. I am losing by my unconscious body's volition, and am being replenished by the same natural force. Somewhere beyond my scope of discovery, there is a nascent nail coming up from the nail bed, scaling and forming. Within the duly prescribed time (sadly, it will probably be 18 months, if WebMD can be trusted), a new nail will sit on my right toe, just as bright and lacquered and cheerful as any other piggy in the row. And who will know that I had another, perfidious, perhaps, toenail that has gone the way of the earth and nail clippings?

Restorative powers of my own body, I salute you!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

In Defense of Stephanie Meyer.

It occurs to me that at this late stage I haven't lent my voice to the already cacophonous choruses debating the literary merits of Ms. Meyer's work. I realize that by making any sort of statement, I risk alienating good friends with strong opinions, but weighing that hazard against that of letting my friend continue in strong opinions unchecked, I have decided to go forth as originally planned.

I don't think Stephanie Meyer is a bad writer.

Now this isn't to say that I think her prose merits inclusion in the next Norton's anthology or that a world of Twilight would usher in the literary revolution we've been waiting for, but I've had enough of people calling her a talentless hack. Sure, maybe some lines of teenage angst strike the reader as perhaps overly melodramatic, or crudely hewn, but that doesn't make her talentless. In fact, if she's talentless, then may God bless me with the talentlessness to make the New York Times Bestseller Lists for seemingly marathon numbers of weeks. May God bless me with the talentlessness to create a public mania with more fan-allegiance, more marketing power, and more imitators than (dare I say it?) even Harry Potter. May God bless me with the talentlessness to inspire hundreds of thousands, and I might suggest millions, of "non-readers" to pick up a book, read it straight through, get to the end and then start it again. That seems like a nice kind of talentless.

Some people will claim that a novel can be "popular" without being "good." Usually what people mean by "good" is that some sentence-level eloquence or clever plot construction is present. I have in my mind some of the rules that "good" writing employs: varying your sentence length, creating meaningful characters, be consistent in your details, avoid the cliche or obvious, etc. These rules do, more often than not, create a pleasurable reading experience for someone who expects reading already to be a pleasure, but it seems like there are another set of rules at hand for mad, feverish popular success. It may have something to do with reading the zeitgeist. It may have something to do with fulfilling a psychological or socialogical need. But while "good" fiction adheres to some academic standard floating around among people who have read Moby Dick all the way through and a sufficient amount of the Latin American prose poems, popular fiction is good because people enjoy reading it. In fact, I'd venture that it's easier to teaching someone (or yourself) to write "good" fiction, than it is to teach them to write something that will be popular.

I don't think there's a magic formula to Twilight, or The DaVinci Code (and I admit that I'm not fond of the DaVinci Code, but I will say that"The Truth about DaVinci's Codes" lecture series filled our humble art museum to fire-marshal capacity, when actual DaVinci's had not had the same effect), or any other other imensely popular book that causes literary types to scrunch up their eyebrows and frown. If there was a formula, I'm certain publishers and editors and agents would put it on the back of their business cards. Still, though you may wince your way through Bella and Edward's dialogue, something about it causes a sudden bout of irresponsibility to other tasks and you inexplicably find yourself in the bathtub at 3:00 am wondering if Bella's going to become a vampire this time. This doesn't happen to everyone, but I'll admit that it happened to me.

And, finally (and this is the last refuge of the literary apologist) if you think Stephanie Meyer's written a bad novel, then I heartily welcome you to write a better one yourself. Having just finished my first novel(la), I can testify that it's a mighty hard thing to string together a beginning, middle, and an end, especially over the course of 300, 400 pages. Everyone who completes the task in the most primitive way deserves a gold star. If you write a better novel than Twilight, you may enjoy the same successes. It broke my heart to hear of Stephen King's denunciation of Stephanie Meyer; it broke my heart enough for me to cry out in spite, "yeah, well, Stephen King, the 1980s called--they miss you."

And if your novel doesn't break to the same wild acclaim, it won't be because the hegemony of Twilight has ensnared all your adolescent readers in zombie-like rituals of re-reading; there was once a book that was written precisely as the world of young adult fiction was caught up in adoration of a fantasy world that extended into bookstore release parties, clothing, movies, action figures, music, bedspreads, posters, themed birthdays, and seemed to hold the literary world in its iron, serial grip. It was the year 2005. The hegemony was Harry Potter and the underdog was a first novel by a housewife--you know it as Twilight.