Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Welcome to the Noosphere

Professor Drysdale likes class participation. He always has. He jumps at the slightest raised hand-- the tiniest flicker of the wrist excites him. He bounds across the front of the classroom, flipping his pencil in the air and cracking the knuckles of his long fingers against his thighs. When he talks his Adam's apple moves up and down and mesmerizes me from my front row seat.

I pay attention in class. I take notes. I don't lean back in my chair, I don't chew gum, and I don't talk to my neighbors.
I also don't contribute to discussions.
Drifting into senseless fantasies is perhaps one of my less obvious talents. I have dreamed up ridiculous visions in each of my classes. In more embarrassing scenarios they often involve characters in books that I have read, or in extreme cases, characters that I have created in my mind.
Needless to say, my talent is not obvious because I usually do not make it so.
It is an infallible principle; if the mouth never opens, nothing regrettable will ever come out.

And then my nose started to itch.

It began somewhere between a discussion about the Jonestown Massacre and the bystander intervention model. A tiny, creeping, pinprick of a nuisance entered my right nostril. At the time I believe I was thinking about horses-- Black Beauty to be exact-- and how fragile their ankles were. I thought about what it might feel like to be horse, and to have a bit placed in one's mouth and to pull a sleigh over white hills.
"Now, what would induce 38 people to simply..."
From the windows I could see the snow softly drift down to the Earth and muffle the grass in sparkling insulation. How sad to be a horse out in the snow! How sad to be a dead Ginger in the back of a cart!
"...brutally raped in murdered and not a single phone call to 9-1-1..."
I had cried while reading Black Beauty. I had found it undeniably saddening. All this long while my nose continued to itch. Without bothering to bring back my wandering mind, I casually reached up with my hand to brush the right side of my face (including the nose) and satisfy it all with a gentle scratch. As I lifted my hand, Mike Drysdale's exuberant voice permeated my reverie,
"Ah ha! Comment! What have you to say, Miss plaid scarf?"

I froze. I peered behind my left shoulder to stare at the girl who was not responding to the professor. I looked over my right shoulder and still saw no one in plaid. Then I looked down at the red and gray and black tied in a trendy little knot around my neck and looked up in horror to the front of the classroom.

"Um... nothing. No. Contribute. Not," I stammered. My voice squeaked and sounded unnaturally high.

"Very good!" said the professor, smacking his hands together and rubbing them warmly as he stared me down.
"I guess sometimes it's good to just raise your hand to say no," he said.

I closed my eyes and put my head down on the desk to dream about unicorns.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Pigeons on the grass-- alas!

NEGLIGIBLE old star.
Pour even.
It was a sad per cent.
Does on sun day.
Watch or water.
So soon a moon or a old heavy press.

I have officially had the pleasure of being formally introduced to the true nature of the English major. They may be a poetic genius, or a literature extraordinaire, but they are always-- in my opinion, at least-- completely bonkers.

I'm afraid it's beginning to have an effect on me.

The girls I sit next to in American literature history class are all English majors. They love Thoreau, and Wharton, and Chopin. They search for metaphors in one word poems. They have stringy hair, a pestiferous vocabulary, and strained eyes insulated with thick lenses for heavy reading. They use hand gestures when they talk. They fight all the time but never resolve their arguments. They are dynamic and caustic-- their debates create a cacophony of shrillness over which Evelyn Funda simply smiles and sways her hips and says, "tell me more, more, more."

Literature goes through cycles: romanticism, realism, naturalism, and modernism. The more innovation and progression that literature undergoes, the more freedom both author and reader have to write, experiment, and interpret.

For example, when I read Uncle Tom's Cabin, I felt the conspicuous presence of Harriet Beecher Stowe in my head. I was reading with the author's lingering breath moistening my ear. She had an odd way of placing her thumbs on the lobes of my brain and whispering, "This is a bad character! You don't like him! Here is the plot. Here is the problem. Now think THIS!"

Until I came to college, I was used to this type of reading. I did not read to find new meaning in someone else's work-- I read to gain information only. I read the world like an encyclopedia, a Dicken's novel, or a Sharon Creech book. I read to take; I never read to contribute.

And then there was James.

Henry James was different. When one reads Daisy Miller, one feels the decisive indifference of the author. Was it sad that Daisy perished in the end with no elaborate bedside scenes or fallen lovers? Frankly, it would seem that James simply didn't care. I undoubtedly did not either; I found the writing trite and egotistic and boring. When I opened the book, it seemed to me that James would immediately rise from his tea, tip his hat, and leave the room. Well, it's all well for you, Mr. James, but I am being force fed this nonsense, I would think.

He may remain indifferent, but the members of Evelyn Funda's English class could not.

And all the while the English majors would snip and snap and twist and take and talk and soak in all this terrible, terrible literature.

And then Ms. Stein popped into existence.

Gertrude Stein was the worst of all. When I read "The Making of Americans," I felt like I was in a glass box. Not only was the box glass, but it was a glass box with no holes, and no air, and no door. I read the words and tried to make sense of them-- words that are words and not much else; words that are abstract, that are the medium of the message, that are a perfect Picasso of words and nothing else--but I failed and failed because my brain cannot make order out of chaos. And all around the box was Gertrude Stein-- pressed hard against the glass, laughing, laughing, laughing-- and me inside trying and repeating and trying and repeating... and all the English majors were at war with each other, and there were papers and punches flying in every direction, and there was blood on the floor.

And serenely smiling over it all was Evelyn Funda, saying "more, more, more!"

I don't understand English majors or American literature. And yet, as sad, and as sorry, and as petty as it seems, I try very hard to fit in with them.

It will forever be my blight.

A LIGHT in the moon the only light is on Sunday. What was the sensible decision. The sensible decision was that notwithstanding many declarations and more music, not even withstanding the choice and a torch and a collection, notwithstanding the celebrating hat and a vacation and even more noise than cutting, notwithstanding Europe and Asia and being overbearing, not even notwithstanding an elephant and a strict occasion, not even withstanding more cultivation and some seasoning, not even with drowning and with the ocean being encircling, not even with more likeness and any cloud, not even with terrific sacrifice of pedestrianism and a special resolution, not even more likely to be pleasing. The care with which the rain is wrong and the green is wrong and the white is wrong, the care with which there is a chair and plenty of breathing. The care with which there is incredible justice and likeness, all this makes a magnificent asparagus, and also a fountain.

~Gertrude Stein