December 31, 2008

the year dwindles.

"And I, perhaps, walking away from the church door, would have something now of the same anonymous arrested look -- captured, as the saying goes, in the picture; serving to show, merely, by human contrast, the dimensions of buildings, to date the photograph unwittingly with my clothes and hair; somebody purloined from a crowd to act as an example. The light itself had dwindled to the joyless sepia of an old photograph."
--Shirley Hazzard, The Bay of Noon

December 24, 2008

OMC: Only mildly competent

A few weeks ago, I missed out on the chance to see Michael Cunningham at the Hammer. Finals week + author events = a choice between regret and guilt. My choice brought regret.

But the good thing is that I have his novel, The Hours, right here. I haven't read it in years, but curious to see if he was still as good a writer as I remembered, I found this passage in which Cunningham imagines a typical Virginia Woolf workday.
She will write for an hour or so, then eat something. Not eating is a vice, a drug of sorts -- with her stomach empty she feels quick and clean, clearheaded, ready for a fight. She sips her coffee, sets it down, stretches her arms. This is one of the most singular experiences, waking on what feels like a good day, preparing to work but not yet actually embarked. At this moment there are infinite possibilities, whole hours ahead. Her mind hums.
It's interesting how one author interprets another of his kind. He envisions his predecessor as someone who works on an empty stomach. Which makes sense, since she ends up offing herself, doesn't it? If having an empty stomach makes you feel powerful, isn't there something wrong with you? Doesn't that just define the term "eating disorder" right there?

Just a little farther down the page, is a passage that makes it all worth it. If anything, The Hours is worth reading just for this:
Writing in that state is the most profound satisfaction she knows, but her access to it comes and goes without warning. She may pick up her pen and follow it with her hand as it moves across the paper; she may pick up her pen and find that she's merely herself, a woman in a housecoat holding a pen, afraid and uncertain, only mildly competent, with no idea about where to begin or what to write.

She picks up her pen.

Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.
I am quite sure that I love Michael Cunningham for writing this. Only mildly competent. Definitely not a phrase that pertains to either of these novelists.

December 17, 2008

Hot donut love

That look! It was then she understood how dough feels when it is plunged into boiling oil. The heat that invaded her body was so real she was afraid she would start to bubble -- her face, her stomach, her head, her breasts -- like batter.
--Like Water for Chocolate
Hot passionate lust ... it sure leaves the body bubbling like a doughnut in hot oil.

December 14, 2008

I think I might just like Eggers for the Egg.

One of my favorite parts from AHWOSG:
"All such foods, those containing more than two or three ingredients mixed together indiscriminately, including all sandwiches except salami, are not chewed, but eschewed."
I'm currently rereading the book and seeing if it is indeed true that the older you get, the more Eggers sounds like a whiny and arrogant brat, and less like a young, brazen genius. So far it's not the "staggering genius" I remember it being back when I was 17, but it's still pretty darn good. I'll be 21 in ten days. I guess I can't be that old yet, if I still enjoy this book...

December 8, 2008

To eat dried oats, or not to eat dried oats?

I cannot draw a cart, nor eat dried oats.
If it be man's work, I'll do't.
--King Lear

Uh-oh. I've eaten dried oats. Does that make me a horse? Maybe? Neigh-be? Neigh it is.

December 7, 2008

Can you count the number of sprinkles?

Flip through any anthology of what are considered the "best" short stories of the last decade or so, and you'll inevitably run across the name Alice Munro.

I don't know how to put my finger on what she does, or how she does it; I just know that we could all learn from the abundance of details she throws at us in each of her stories. And luckily for a fatty like me, those details are bound to include food every now and then...
Would you like to know how I am informed of your death? I go into the faculty kitchen, to make myself a cup of coffee before my ten o'clock class. Dodie Charles who is always baking something has brought a cherry pound cake. (The thing we old pros know about, in these fantasies, is the importance of detail, solidity; yes, a cherry pound cake.) It is wrapped in waxed paper and then in a newspaper. The Globe and Mail, not the local paper, that I would have seen. Looking idly at this week-old paper ... Only then do I realize. Your name. The city where you lived and died. A heart attack, that will do."
- From the story Tell Me Yes or No, by Alice Munro
I bolded the portion that I particularly like about this passage; I like to think that Alice is being self-reflective here, or at least talking to budding young writer-wannabes.

Maybe she's calling herself an old pro who knows enough to include the detail of cherry pound cake --
not just cake,
not just pound cake,
but cherry pound cake.

And this cherry pound cake is in waxed paper and newspaper...not just any newspaper, but a local paper the narrator wouldn't normally be reading.
And reading the fine print of that paper, is what gets her somewhere.

Somewhere. And wouldn't we like to go somewhere?

Here's to counting sprinkles, or reading the details (and maybe writing them sometimes, too)! Characters have interesting lives because they discern details that lead them to circumstances we can't even begin to imagine for ourselves; instead, we are those who seek them vicariously through literature.

December 1, 2008

amaretti, white as snow patrol

*From Caffe Roma in NYC's Little Italy

the day breaks
apart in our hands