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Life is a List

Life is a list of chores
To keep life long
And other people want done.

Every morning is another list
The same dishes, the same laundry,
The same store, the same job

Every morning is another list
A new problem at work
A new problem at home

Hit the road to run away
Find yourself on a different highway
With the same stores all along the way.

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So Oft As I Her Beauty Do Behold

By Edmund Spenser

So oft as I her beauty do behold,
And therewith do her cruelty compare,
I marvel of what substance was the mould,
The which her made at once so cruel fair,
Not earth, for her high thoughts more heavenly are;
Not water, for her love doth burn like fire;
Not air, for she is not so light or rare;
Not fire, for she doth freeze with faint desire.
Then needs another element inquire
Whereof she mote be made – that is, the sky;
For to the heave her haughty looks aspire,
And eke her mind is pure immortal high.
Then, sith to heaven ye likened are the best,
Be like in mercy as in all the rest.

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Self-Dependence

By Matthew Arnold

Weary of myself, and sick of asking
What I am, and what I ought to be,
At this vessel’s prow I stand, which bears me
Forwards, forwards, o’er the starlit sea.

And a look of passionate desire
O’er the sea and to the stars I send:
“Ye who from my childhood up have calm’d me,
Calm me, ah, compose me to the end!”

“Ah, once more,” I cried, “ye stars, ye waters,
On my heart your mighty charm renew;
Still, still let me, as I gaze upon you,
Feel my soul becoming vast like you!”

From the intense, clear, star-sown vault of heaven,
Over the lit sea’s unquiet way,
In the rustling night air came the answer:
“Wouldst thou be as these are? Live as they.

“Unaffrighted by the silence round them,
Undistracted by the sights they see,
These demand not that the things without them
Yield them love, amusement, sympathy.

“And with joy the stars perform their shining,
And the sea its long moon-silver’d roll;
For self-poised they live, nor pine with noting
All the fever of some differing soul.

“Bounded by themselves, and unregardful
In what state God’s other works may be,
In their own tasks all their powers pouring,
These attain the mighty life you see.”

O, air-born voice! Long since, severely clear,
A cry like thine in mine own heart I hear;
“Resolve to be thyself; and know that he,
Who finds himself, loses his misery!”

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“A story is impelled by the necessity to reveal: the aim of the story is revelation, which means that a story can have nothing – at least not deliberately – to hide. The also means the story resolves nothing. The resolution of the story must occur in us, with what we make of the questions with which the story leaves us. A plot, on the other hand, must come to a resolution, prove a point: a plot must answer all the questions which it pretends to pose.”

Aside from having to remember this quote the next time someone asks me the difference between a story and a plot, I find this interesting on various levels. It helps explain the tension between the need of a mystery novel to both reveal and conceal, and doing both just enough to keep the reader reading. It helps explain the difference between the resolution of action on the page and the emotional resolution inside the reader. The characters don’t have to have a happy ending or greater understanding as long as we’ve learned something from their experience.

It’s easier for the writer to show us the understanding via the character learning something, but not necessary.
When Baldwin wrote “pretends to pose,” it reveals something about how he writes. He apparently starts writing knowing what he wants to say, so only “pretends to pose” a question. Sometimes I write not knowing what the answer is, so I’m not pretending to pose the question, I am posing it to myself and figuring it out as I go along, but then once I do I might go back and rewrite as if I knew all along.

Mar. 31st, 2014

Matthew Arnold on Heinrich Heine: “Modern times find themselves with an immense system of institutions, established facts, accredited dogmas, customs, rules, which have come to them from times not modern. In this system their life has to be carried forward; yet they have a sense that this system is not of their own creation, that it by no means corresponds exactly with the wants of their actual life, that, for them, it is customary, not rational. The awakening of this sense is the awakening of the modern spirit.”

I think this sums up a lot of the complaints about our educational system. The modern public school system was expanded quickly using assumptions that children were pliable and teachers interchangeable. It assumed a culturally and racially homogeneous student body. It did not foresee the increasingly specialized demands of our economy any more than accepted the differing talents of students. It even assumed that women were stay at home moms, which wasn’t always the case even then, and when you think of how many teachers are and were women it was an odd assumption indeed.

Looking back on my time in public school I think if students had been allowed to work at their own pace, a third of them, the college bound kids, could have finished high school by the time we were thirteen. If we don’t want to send kids to college so young, we would always add back in the arts and language classes that have been cut. With computers and hiring more teachers, it could be done, but no administration would be willing to raise taxes to do it. Americans can whine and moan all they want about our domestic problems, but we’re not willing to put our money where our mouth is.

The only serious improvement in our educational system in the last twenty years has been the expansion of AP classes, allowing students to work at a higher level and when they go to college skip 101 level college classes and go to the 200 level classes. When I went to college, I skipped American History 101 and took Diplomatic History and Constitutional History instead.

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The Queen of Hearts

By Christina Rossetti

How comes it, Flora, that, whenever we
Play cards together, you invariably,
However the pack parts,
Still hold the Queen of Hearts?

I’ve scanned you with a scrutinizing gaze,
Resolved to fathom these your secret ways:
But, sift them as I will,
Your ways are secret still.

I cut and shuffle; shuffle, cut, again;
But all my cutting, shuffling, proves in vain:
Vain hope, vain forethought too;
The Queen still falls to you.

I dropped her once, prepense; but ere the deal
Was dealt, your instinct seemed her loss to feel:
“There should be one card more,”
You said, and searched the floor.

I cheated once; I made a private notch
In Heart-Queen’s back, and kept a lynx-eyed watch;
Yet such another back
Deceived me in the pack:

The Queen of Clubs assumed by arts unknown
An imitative dint that seemed my own;
This notch, not of my doing,
Misled me to my ruin.

It baffles me to puzzle out the clue,
Which must be skill, or craft, or luck in you:
Unless, indeed, it be
Natural affinity.

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Mar. 26th, 2014

Microsoft “updated” my laptop the other day, and now my laptop can no long play the music on my external hard drive, which is the majority of my music. I tried, and the computer told me to go to the “app store.”

Well to hell with that. I really would rather spend two afternoons at my parents’ house downloading my old CDs into my computer than let Microsoft blackmail me into giving them money. Even a single dollar. I’ll survive on a couple of months of Doctor Demento, Mozart, and Copeland & Wellman until I get back to the States. I realize it’s not economically efficient, but if money was more important than principle to me, I’d be a corporate lawyer instead of a teacher/writer.

This is where Apple buyers come from, assholes.

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Mar. 21st, 2014

I’m afraid this night sleep alludes me (I’m typing this at night, will post later). Too many things crawling around inside my brain. Tomorrow is my longest teaching day, and I have a lot going on. I’ve also been summarizing a book on Jewish-American literature into a power point presentation for my American literature class.

But more importantly in the long run, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to properly promote my novels. Once upon a time, it was the common wisdom that different sorts of books should be written under different pen names so as to not confuse or disappoint readers. I know a married couple who are, between the two of them, supporting six different pen names, including one they share for when they write books together. I heard about one woman who was in a bookstore and overheard two people arguing over which of her pen names was the better author. I even have a friend who has two pen names, one for high fantasy and one for urban fantasy, even if we were both a little puzzled about why the publisher insisted upon such a distinction.

So I developed a couple of different pen names and gave them Livejournal identities. A few short stories were published under one of those pen names, but no novels. I’ve been planning an e-magazine of my own to publicize myself, making it look as if my stories had been written by different people. Lots of different people, since it is a little mind boggling how much I’ve written in the last 15 years.

But lately I’ve been wondering if a simpler advertising strategy would be to publish everything under one name, and use Amazon’s key word search engine to attract different readers to different books and hope they like my books in one genre enough to buy my novels in another genre. This runs completely contrary to the conventional wisdom of having separate pen names to avoid disappointing readers with too much variety, but while I don’t mind flaunting conventional wisdom, I’m assuming the marketing people have some idea of what they are doing.

There’s no rush on the decision, since I’m here in China I’m not uploading anything more to Kindle until sometime this summer, just focusing on revisions, but sometimes it really preys on my mind.

“Ah, are you digging on my grave?”

By Thomas Hardy
“Ah, are you digging on my grave,
My loved one? – planting rue?”
-“No; yesterday he went to wed
One of the brightest wealth has bred.
‘It cannot hurt her now,’ he said,
‘That I should not be true’.”

“Then who is digging on my grave,
My nearest dearest kin?”
-“Ah, no: they sit and think, ‘What use!
What good will planting flowers produce?
No tendance of her mound can loose
Her spirit from Death’s gin’.”

“But someone digs upon my grave?
My enemy? – prodding sly?”
-“Nay: when she heard you had passed the Gate
That shuts on all flesh soon or late,
She thought you no more worth her hate
And cares not where you lie.”

“Then, who is digging on my grave?
Say – since I have not guessed!”
-“O it is I, my mistress dear,
Your little dog, who still lives near
And much I hope my movements here
Have not disturbed your rest?”

“Ah, yes, you dig upon my grave…
Why flashed it not to me
That one true heart was left behind!
What feeling do we ever find
To equal among human kind
A dog’s fidelity!”

“Mistress, I dug upon your grave
To bury a bone, in case
I should be hungry near this spot
When passing on my daily trot.
I am sorry, but I quite forgot
It was your resting place.”

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“One cannot write without a public and without a myth – without a certain public which historical circumstances have made, without a certain myth of literature which depends to a very great extent upon the demand of the public. In a word, the author is in a situation, like all other men. But his writings, like every human project, simultaneously enclose, specify, and surpass this situation, even explain it and set it up, just as the idea of a circle explains and sets up that of the rotation of a segment.”

I wish he hadn’t used the rather loaded word “myth,” since it mocks the human ambition to have knowledge about the world. I certainly wouldn’t want to tell James Baldwin or Richard Wright that their writings about racism are a “myth of literature” depending upon “the demand of the public.” In parts of his book, Sartre does go out of his way to praise Richard Wright, even if sometimes the praise sounds weird to me.

On the other hand, it can be incredibly difficult to communicate without a shared understanding, and that goes for writing as well as any other kind. The greater the original gulf between the writer and the reader, the more work they have to put into reaching across the divide. Every once in a while I want to tell a funny story to my friends or students in China that depends on having watched American TV back in the 80s, but most Chinese don’t seem aware of any American television before “Friends,” which is about when my knowledge of TV starts fading out.

I do like the idea that writing can “enclose, specify, and surpass this situation,” which I take as meaning an expression of understanding and the passing on of that understanding, and you do usually have to understand your situation as a first step to surpassing it.

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