roaring twenties


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roaring twenties


When I look at the time since my last post, I am flabbergasted. A lot has been going on. A lot.

I am being courted, for one thing. Assiduously, ardently, gently, amusingly courted. It's been a while since that happened, and it's never happened quite like this. Not sure how much I can say about it without failing to do it justice or even, god forbid, slipping into cliche.

We'll see, is all I can say. We'll see. And maybe soon.

The other parts of my life are equal parts hectic and ordinary, frustrating and satisfying. I have a lot of meetings, but a lot of laughs to balance them out.

Got the H1N1 shot today. Arm feels like it's been punched and then weighed down.

roaring twenties


From intertext:
  • Leave me a comment saying "Resistance is Futile."
  • I'll respond by asking you five questions so I can satisfy my curiosity.
  • Update your journal with the answers to the questions.
  • Include this explanation in the post and offer to ask other people questions.

1. There is a heaven. And in it there is a library with all the books you could possibly desire, even some that have never been written. What treasures do you find on the shelves?

Wow, I could write about this for the rest of my life, which has a Borgesian appeal. I shall confine myself to 10 wishes.

So. First, three multi-volume sets of the great poets of America, Ireland, and Britain respectively. They are beautifully bound in silk in art nouveau patterns. There are too many to count easily, but the stars are predictable. Second, the works of the great Victorians: Charlotte Bronte, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, etc. Third, a who's who of 20th and 21st century British fiction. Fourth, the collected Dr. Seuss. Fifth, the books that Camus would have written had he lived into his eighties. Fifth, the same for Mr. Keats, along with a copy of all the letters Fanny wrote to him. Sixth, a Broadway musical by Samuel Beckett. Seventh, books by all my cats relating their experiences living with me. Eighth, a book about my family history that fills in all the gaps that currently exist. Ninth, the Oxford English Dictionary. Tenth, whatever book would finally convince the people in the world who have great power that human beings are equally important and more important than money.

2. What is your greatest regret?

Today I will say it's that I didn't give my son a better foundation.

3. What character in fiction would you like to trade places with?

I think we've discussed this in a long-ago blog: Bianca from The Rescuers books.

4. What is your desert island disk?

Can you imagine choosing one disk? I'm torn between three: The Essential Duke Ellington, Belle and Sebastian's Push Barman to Open Old Wounds, or Radiohead's Kid A.

5. And I realized that I don't know this about you - something really simple - what are your favourite flavours (apart from tomatoes, which I know)?

Yes, tomato, and most savory flavors. I also love fruit flavors of every sort, from a good orange to a slice of bumbleberry pie. Also sweet curry. And nutty flavors, like sunflowers seeds and Basmati rice.

roaring twenties


From Poetry Daily (

Wedding Piñata

In the rented performance space
the devil's head is rigged with a hanger
inverted into a question mark
under which a ring of children
crouch poised for the gathering,
while the wedding party wolfs down
miniature pigs-in-blankets, duck
with Thai peppers, curried goat
steaming in milk, just as the Buddha-
headed best man leather-clad, bull-
pierced swings the sawed-off hockey
stick as if carving calligraphy from air,
then the bride's father and his scotch
wielding like a terribly old knight
nearly decapitates his wife of forty years,
catching her sequined beret, her silver
wig shimmering like a mackerel
in the flickering strobe as we take turns
tying the red bandana over our eyes,
ready to receive instruction or cigarette.
Times like this, one prays there is life
on other planets, that someday cruising
in their space jalopies they'll sputter
and stall and see with their one good eye
what we all see here on the purgatory
of the dance floor—our mirrored ball,
our ruin of disco—vexed in the couple
swaying, saying soft things, waiting
for one lucky fool to hack and flay
some hidden pleasure, some sweet rain.

James Hoch
roaring twenties


Thanks to intertextfor so often providing a way for me to sneak a little pleasure into my workday:

1) What author do you own the most books by?

I am not at home to check, but I'd wager it's Graham Greene.

2) What book do you own the most copies of?

I am not a collector, but I have both teaching copies and non-teaching copies of some books.

3) Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions?


4) What fictional character are you secretly in love with?

Mr. Rochester (and I kind of hate myself for it).

5) What book have you read the most times in your life?

Moo, Ba, La La La by Sandra Boynton

6) What was your favorite book when you were ten years old?

Black Beauty (?)

7) What is the worst book you’ve read in the past year?

This is going to be an unpopular answer, but probably The Book of Negroes. It's not that it's bad, just overrated and a bit obvious.

8) What is the best book you’ve read in the past year?

That's too hard! I read so many wonderful books! Umm . . . I loved and was moved by the last two I read, A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore and Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann.

9) If you could force everyone you know to read one book, what would it be?

I agree with Intertext that The Road is a must-read, but I am also considering All the Names. Both books plead for the value of our humanity but in quite different ways.

10) Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for Literature?

Wow, my knowledge of worldlit is too weak to allow for pronouncements. Perhaps J.M. Coetzee or Adrienne Rich? Anyway, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in my philosophy, so I am probably missing many likely candidates.

11) What book would you most like to see made into a movie?

Paradise Lost. A decent version of The Great Gatsby would also be, well, great.

12) What book would you least like to see made into a movie?

The Things They Carried.

13) Describe your weirdest dream involving a writer, book, or literary character.

I once dreamed that I was sleeping under a stone table in the kitchen of Dracula's castle.

14) What is the most lowbrow book you’ve read as an adult?

The Terror by Dan Simmons

15) What is the most difficult book you’ve ever read?

Gravity's Rainbow

16) What is the most obscure Shakespeare play you’ve seen?

I haven't seen any really obscure ones. The closest would be A Winter's Tale .

17) Do you prefer the French or the Russians?


18) Roth or Updike?


19) David Sedaris or Dave Eggers?


20) Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer?


21) Austen or Eliot?


22) What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?


23) What is your favorite novel?

Are you trying to give me an aneurysm? Jane Eyre for sentimental reasons. Cloud Atlas for sheer fun. Ulysses for talent and capaciousness. The Things They Carried for emotional punch. The Bell Jar for being so much more than a neurotic poet's self-indulgence. And a thousand more.

24) Play?

Macbeth or Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

25) Poem?

Seriously, an aneurysm? This is way too hard. Titles are springing to mind faster than rain falls in the temperate rainforest in November. I cannot choose. I will not.

26) Essay?

"Authority and American Usage" by David Foster Wallace. Or anything by George Orwell.

27) Short story?

How silly to pick one! A couple of attempts: "The Dead" (Joyce) or "Bartleby the Scrivener" (Melville) because they keep on giving something new. All of William Trevor, Alice Munro, and Mavis Gallant.

28) Work of nonfiction?

The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols

29) Who is your favorite writer?

Wow, hard one. Unfair really. Not on.

30) Who is the most overrated writer alive today?

Intertext is right about Maya Angelou, but I might also add Dan Brown. I say that without reading him, naturally.

31) What is your desert island book?

The Broadview Anthology of Poetry.

32) And… what are you reading right now?

The Plague by Albert Camus

roaring twenties


A few words from Monsieur Samuel Beckett:

what would I do without this world faceless incurious
where to be lasts but an instant where every instant
spills in the void the ignorance of having been
without this wave where in the end
body and shadow together are engulfed
what would I do without this silence where the murmurs die
the pantings the frenzies toward succour towards love
without this sky that soars
above its ballast dust

what would I do what I did yesterday and the day before
peering out of my deadlight looking for another
wandering like me eddying far from all the living
in a convulsive space
among the voices voiceless
that throng my hiddenness
roaring twenties


I come to this journal weary and, if not unwilling, uncertain about the value or meaning of any new entry, including this one.

The thing is this: when one has something on one's mind, one cannot entirely focus on anything else, yet one shrinks at the task of beginning at the beginning and thus compunding exhaustion by telling the whole tale.  And one begins to use the pronoun "one" to suggest one's growing separation from even oneself.

Many people do tell their own stories, analyze their parents and their school days and their love affairs and their choices, either forced or freely made.  Yes, many do, at least to me, and I like well enough to listen to them and to keep their secrets, but I have oft been accused of holding back and chided for doing so.  I don't seem to gain much from speaking of my sorrows to others and cannot be bothered to tell most my tales unless I can use them to entertain.  In any case, the difficulty of making sense of my own life and the infinite weariness of the telling itself--for oh how far back one would have to go!--defeats me.  

And I just don't interest myself all that much, to be frank.  I am often charmed, sometimes annoyed,  by how frequently and how quickly most people must get their own stories into the centre ring.  As in, "Did you hear about what happened in X?"  "Yeah, well, I was in X once and let me tell you . . . ."--that ability or desire to make everything connect to them, to connect to everything.  How can they possibly tell their stories so often and so thoroughly?  Where do they get the motivation?

A bit from the book I am reading, a book of stories by William Trevor', captures it for me today: "You put it all together, and it made a life; you lived in its aftermath, but that too was best kept back."

My latest alarming fault is unkindness, not in deed but in thought.  For instance, I just came back from the cafeteria, where my inner crank raged at many people innocently going about their business.  I was angry at the fat woman dithering over which kind of soup to have: "Can't you see that you are taking up ALL the room while you ponder deeply an almost MEANINGLESS decision?"  I despised the sullen, droning cashier: "If you don't really GIVE A SHIT whether someone has a nice day or not, stop TELLING them to!"  I also despised the cheerful, welcoming cashier: "Do you really think we all need to commit ourselves to INANE CHATTER just to get a bowl of overpriced soup?"  I was disappointed to see two former students who've together added nothing to the sum total of thought in the world happily chatting over pizza in the cafeteria: "How can you not see that all your outward beauties, your shining hair and your matching sweaters and your trendy binders, are but silken threads draped over an APPALLING EMPTINESS OF INTELLECT AND HUMAN CURIOSITY?"

As a rule, I am a fan of human beings, so I am not sure what to do with this negativity.  I find that when a stranger approaches me, when I have to make small talk and such, that I can almost feel my energy draining out of an imaginary hole in the base of my skull.  I become a lot of nothing.

I'd be worried that I'd gone off people altogether, except that yesterday on the spur of the moment, I went to see Bright Star and was almost unbearably touched by the way Jane Campion's pensive, compassionate, and starkly graceful film made a historically particular story into a universal tale of love and fate.  And to have Ben Wishaw reading "Ode to a Nightingale" over the closing credits was a stroke of genius--I was rapt.  I am so glad that Campion, and not some other, made this film, for she too is an artist in her medium, one whose work has the lyrical intensity of poetry and thus who is well-suited to celebrating that particular kind of genius (she did this also in the amazing An Angel at My Table).  The casting, the cinematography, the silence, the pace, the attention to faces, and the writing make this a triumph, as far as I am concerned.

So maybe I'm not all nothing, after all.