January 30, 2009

Rabbit, Royce

John Updike died Tuesday. And this is all I know of him -- a fuzzy memory of one October (November?) night sitting in the left-side first row of Royce Hall as I listened to him answer David Ulin's questions about mortality and The Widows of Eastwick in soft stage light. When I got home that night, I scribbled down what few tidbits I could remember from his answers, which is the only reason I am able to write this entry at all.

I learned that he liked writing his novels with "soft pencil on paper," but his book reviews by typewriter or computer. That writers are "a jealous lot, really." That he believed a writer's purpose is to communicate his or her opinions and interpretation of reality. That he planned to continue to write until he "dropped dead" (and he followed through on that one -- doesn't he have a final book coming out in June?). It almost sounds too romantic and cliche to be true, but he wrote his first novel, titled Home, on copier paper he stole in the morning at his job. He came in early to write 3 pages a morning, every morning, and somehow ended up with 600 pages. When he showed it to his boss, a publisher and "a nice woman," she politely said, No, it's not ready. But he kept at it anyway.

Even though he was obviously self-absorbed, agreeing to countless interviews and writing pages upon pages of criticism about his own profession, he still seemed somewhat feeble or weak-spirited in a way that had nothing to do with his age. I wondered if he was happy, even though he had the crowd, including me, wrapped around his finger, ready to laugh at the slightest joke and quick to reciprocate every smile that flickered across his face. I remember quite clearly one thing he said: "A part of me thinks we have children to keep from being lonely later on." And I wonder, was it enough for him? Did he die lonely, or was he satisfied with what he had accomplished in the end?

January 27, 2009

Let them eat frosting

Sprinkles cupcakes may be overpriced, but at least they don't skimp on their delicious frosting (this coming from someone who is pretty picky about her frosting, mind you).

The Glass Castle is a pretty sobering memoir. The girls can't afford frosting, so they make do with what's available.
Lori, what are you eating?
Margarine, she said.
I wrinkled my nose. Really?
Yeah, she said. Mix it with sugar. Tastes just like frosting.
I made some. It didn't taste like frosting. It was sort of crunchy, because the sugar didn't dissolve, and it was greasy and left a filmy crust in my mouth. But I ate it all anyway.
If you had $3.25 would you spend it on a Sprinkles cupcake? I wouldn't.

January 26, 2009

Year of the Oxtail Soup

Fish: $7

Bean sprouts: $3

But eating great food even when it's not Chinese New Year? Priceless.

Happy New Year! I am reminiscing about a tasty meal I had about a month ago. Those fish and bean sprouts were DELICIOUS...hopefully I will have many an oxtail soup in my future! :P

In the meantime, I'll be stuck here:

...Except without the lights and pre-Christmas glow. Sigh.

Blissful ignorance begone

Do you feel it?

The burden of your self awareness, always weighing upon your heart and mind? I do.
"Children ten years old wake up and find themselves here, discover themselves to have been here all along; is this sad? They wake like sleepwalkers, in full stride; they wake like people brought back from cardiac arrest or from drowning; in medias res, surrounded by familiar people and objects, equipped with a hundred skills. ... I woke in bits, like all children, piecemeal over the years. I discovered myself and the world, and forgot them, and discovered them again. ... I noticed this process of waking, and predicted with terrifying logic that one of these years not far away I would be awake continuously and never slip back, and never be free of myself again."
--Annie Dillard, An American Childhood
Is this sad? Hmm, she's right to wonder. To be an adult is to remember over and over again that we must carve out some identity for ourselves in this world, and that we, like Dillard, "can never be free of [ourselves] again."

January 13, 2009

Want mindblowing?

It only took Nicole Krauss until page 11 to write such romantic prose:
Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering. When they were ten he asked her to marry him. When they were eleven he kissed her for the first time. When they were thirteen they got into a fight and for three weeks they didn't talk. When they were fifteen she showed him the scar on her left breast.

Their love was a secret they told no one. He promised her he would never love another girl as long as she lived. What if I die? she asked. Even then, he said. For her sixteenth birthday he gave her an English dictionary and together they learned the words. What's this? He'd ask, tracing his index finger around her ankle, and she'd look it up. And this? he'd ask, kissing her elbow. Elbow! What kind of word is that? and then he'd lick it, making her giggle. What about this? he asked, touching the soft skin behind her ear. I don't know, she said, turning off the flashlight and rolling over, with a sigh, onto her back.

When they were seventeen they made love for the first time, on a bed of straw in a shed. Later--when things happened that they could never have imagined--she wrote him a letter that said: When will you learn that there isn't a word for everything?
--The History of Love
When there isn't a word for what we want to say, what is left to do but face the action or idea or thought in all its monstrosity? For it isn't shielded by the form of a word or stuffed into categories and letters.

January 12, 2009

Just the good parts

I've decided that this blog/food/literature business is a bit too much to handle all the time. I feel like I'm trying too hard. So from now on, I'm only going to talk about food or literature, but not both, unless it's absolutely effortless and necessary that I do so.

I struggled and struggled through David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas. It wasn't a bad read, but it required a lot of focus. It was worth it though. It's nice when stories string together to create something other than they are in themselves...like creating other creations from the creations one has already created, for lack of better vocabulary on my part. Here follows a delicious nut of the novel:
Three or four times only in my youth did I glimpse the Joyous Isles, before they were lost to fogs, depressions, cold fronts, ill winds, and contrary tides... I mistook them for adulthood. Assuming they were a fixed feature in my life's voyage, I neglected to record their latitude, their longitude, their approach. Young ruddy fool. What wouldn't I give now for a never-changing map of the ever-constant ineffable? To possess, as it were, an atlas of clouds.
--David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas (p.373)
So well worded. And so pertinent to my life situation right now. I thought I would be happy when I was an adult; I thought I'd have it all figured out. Now, here the state of California is declaring me a legal adult, and I can no longer find the hope or dreams I imagined myself fulfilling when I reached this age. Instead of coming closer, I've been stagnant, sinking amid flowing thoughts of insurance coverage plans and trips to Target. And, distracted by the monotony and fear of perfunctory adult life, I've lost sight of any dreams that might have existed at some point in my idealistic past.

Why did I forget to record their latitude? Where is my atlas of clouds?

For now, it's in a Serendipity mug full o' oats.

January 7, 2009

Chinese take-out

I am kind of a creeper. A creeper does creeperly things like stare at old persons in lecture halls and muse about the lives of famous writers living in Brooklyn. Think of the Park-Slope-dwelling Nicole Krauss and Jonathan Safran Foer. They've got the looks and the talent. Much more impressive than any Hollywood power couple, I say. What a lovely, literate child their son must be.

I gathered that The History of Love would be good because I loved JSF's novel, also published in 2005. I based this idea entirely upon the faith that JSF wouldn't have married an idiot, and I don't think I'm wrong. Here's a little snippet of the beginning of what looks to be a promising story:
I often wonder who will be the last person to see me alive. If I had to bet, I'd bet on the delivery boy from the Chinese take-out. I order in four nights out of seven. Whenever he comes I make a big production of finding my wallet. He stands in the door holding the greasy bag while I wonder if this is the night I'll finish off my spring roll, climb into bed, and have a heart attack in my sleep.
--Nicole Krauss, The History of Love.
I like Chinese take-out as much as the next person, but at the same time, it has the potential to be depressing because it means you couldn't muster up enough energy to go out and get it yourself, depressing because it's cooked by some stranger who doesn't even know you, depressing because you can still remember a time when you had delicious versions of the same dishes made by people who loved you.

P.S. according to Wikipedia, (who knows how accurate it is?), JSF is friends with Dave Eggers and they sometimes work together. I hope it's true because that would mean that birds of a feather stick together...and writers of good books edit together.
P.P.S. The above isn't Chinese take-out. I made it myself!

January 5, 2009

Hot diggity.. that's a fast dog.

Call me juvenile, but I like a good story told from the point of view of a non-human (i.e. animal). Watership Down being one of them, Dave Eggers' short story, "After I was thrown in the river and before I drowned" being another.

It begins:
Oh I'm a fast dog. I'm fast-fast. It's true and I love being fast I admit it I love it. You know fast dogs. Dogs that just run by and you say, Damn! That's a fast dog! Well that's me. A fast dog. I'm a fast fast dog. Hoooooooo! Hooooooooooooo!
I can eat pizza. I can eat chicken. I can eat yogurt and rye bread with caraway seeds. It really doesn't matter. They say No, no, don't eat that stuff, you, that stuff isn't for you, it's for us, for people! And I eat it anyway, I eat it with gusto, I eat the food and I feel good and I live on and run and run and look at the people and hear their stupid conversations coming from their slits for mouths and terrible eyes.

I see in the windows. I see what happens. I see the calm held-together moments and also the treachery and I run and run. You tell me it matters, what they all say. I have listened and long ago I stopped. Just tell me it matters and I will listen to you and I will want to be convinced. You tell me that what is said is making a difference, that those words are worthwhile words and mean something. I see what happens. I live with people who are German. They collect steins. They are good people. Their son is dead. I see what happens.
Intrigued yet? This dog eats with gusto and won't stop for anyone. I want to meet this dog.

January 2, 2009

Would Lamar Odom like oden?

I often prepared myself an early dinner of soup noodles or a casserole of oden with rice, but I decided to go straight up to my bedroom and read. It wasn't until the middle of the evening that I stopped, when it occurred to me that I should at least have a snack, so that I wouldn't toss in my sleep or wake up famished. I put on my robe and went out to the stairs, but instead of descending, I wandered down the hallway, to the far door, to the room where Sunny once lived.

--Chang-Rae Lee, A Gesture Life
How wonderful the perfunctory is, when narrated in an interesting and attractive manner. How do writers do this? Chang-Rae Lee's style reminds me of what I like about Ishiguro — although, after reading this novel, I have to say that I give Ishiguro the edge. Something about the ending of the novel didn't sit right with me, as if he started off by carefully crafting every sentence, only to get bored with writing it, hastily forcing things to an end that didn't and doesn't make sense.

P.S. Wikipedia says: Oden (ใŠใงใ‚“) is a Japanese winter dish consisting of several ingredients such as boiled eggs, daikon radish, konnyaku, and processed fish cakes stewed in a light, soy-flavoured dashi broth.