In which I contemplate alternate career paths

Monday, January 30, 2012

Film Moghul 

It started when I was I was asked by the incomparable Lazaraspaste what I thought the difference between a fop and a dandy was, apart from period. Though I gave (eventually) a serious answer, and the conversation that ensued was an all-time Twitter classic, inside my seemingly academic brain all I could think was: "Fop vs. Dandies: Best Action Movie Franchise EVER."

"Give me the name of your tailor,
 and prepare to die."
In the hours that followed, the idea grew in brilliance: elaborate sneerfests, fans deployed with martial fatality, the perfect wound of the flawlessly delivered epigram. For the love of humanity, think of the endless opportunity for sexually tense grappling amidst clouds of lace cuffs and collars!  The scathing potential of the artfully arched brow!

The sequel in the franchise: "Fop vs. Dandies Redux: Wrath of the Popinjays."

FvD 3: The Beaux' Strategem (starring Matt Damon)

FvD 4: The Rake's Regress

It's a hit in the making, I tell you.

Noir Scribbler

read reports that there's an orange glow over Hwy 102, and that Haligonians have been calling in UFO sightings after seeing a "big ball floating over Beaverbank." I think chances are good that these are the lingering effects of the Northern Lights, but one thing's for sure. When D and I write the first in our series of Nova Scotian neo-noir mysteries, it will be called Big Balls in Beaverbank.

Or maybe an atmospheric television show....

Offal Revolutionary

Enough is enough: I'm calling for an uprising after learning (from the CBC, where else?) that most Nova Scotians throwing Burns Day celebrations have to order their haggis from Ontario. Is nothing sacred? Must everything be centralized? Cast off the shackles of this distant, strange haggis, Nova Scots! 

(My "Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens" cookbook instructs me to begin my haggis prep by cleaning the sheep's stomach bag as well as its "knight's hood bag" and to end it by serving the dish "piping hot with clapshot, also called tatties 'n' neeps."  I'm on it.)

Ahistorical Show Runner

We're doing The Importance of Being Earnest in my class this week, and it is a sublime source of joy, endlessly rereadable. First I find myself wondering why I never realized that my grandmother *is* Lady Bracknell. And that gets me ponderin'.

After I've launched my "Fop vs. Dandies" franchise of action movies, I'm going to pitch another TV show. In it, Sir Percy Blakeney, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and Lady Bracknell will alternate spy caper with scathing witticisms over tea. 

And yes, I know that Lady Bracknell is out of period in this show, but WHY DO YOU HAVE TO BE SUCH A SPOILSPORT? 

Television cares naught for historicity.

The Four Horsemen and Farfara

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The library before the Four Horsemen
(fire, blood, flood, and bookalanche) arrived

Yesterday I went to put a book back in the library, and found myself sloshing through a substantial amount of water. After an initial moment of panic in which I believed that our septic system was backing up, I discovered that in fact I had simply broken the washing machine, which was now pumping its entire supply of sudsy water across the floor of our house. 

In telling this to D much later, I summarized: "So, thus far, I have set the kitchen on fire, bled with Jacobean abundance from hands and feet all over the ground floor, and flooded the library. Basically, I am the End of Days for this house."

"Have you considered sitting down and just, um, not doing anything for a while?", D asked.

"I'm Apocalyptic!" I replied, laughing low and not a little maniacally.

The Dragonfly on Privilege (and Hats)

Friday, January 27, 2012

The following is what this dragonfly is whispering in my ear.

Hats literalize the workings of privilege, Revelation #1: 

Being fashionable can be exactly like wearing blinders...

Hats literalize the workings of privilege, Revelation #2: 

...with the result that, in your cloche, the only path to self-preservation is the adoption of a sneeringly aristocratic head tilt, and a gaze that travels archly down your nose, now parallel to the floor. You think you look aloof and dashing. In fact you look myopic and contorted.

[These are corollaries to the 
Dorky Medievalist's first law of fashion, "I always wear heels when I teach hegemony."]

Snow White, Blood Red

Thursday, January 26, 2012

I hereby dub last weekend "Snow White, Blood Red," in keeping with Farfara's fairy tale theme.

Fairy tales happen here

It's so gorgeous with the snow falling that I'm beginning to regret telling everyone that winter (November-June) was a dull time to visit. 

How is it that we can watch the sun set over the ocean from our house on the East Coast?
It's all about the Bay, baby.

In related news: why on earth don't we own a sled? Farfara Way has not yet realized its full potential.

This is where I read, of a sun-drenched evening when the snow turns every surface fiery.

The next morning, I tell D (in decidedly unfrigid Honolulu) how beautiful it is at Farfara, where the only things marring the snow are the prints of a bunny that made its way past in the night.

"A coyote-bunny hybrid?" D asks.

I consider this for a moment, trying to unearth its logic. I think it's that our coyotes, the Nova Scotian beasts who have taken the nearly unprecedented step of attacking human hikers, are thought to be wolf cross-breeds.  

"If so," I finally say, "I'm a lot less worried about these coyotes, because they are less than a foot tall. And they hop, which, let's face it, isn't that scary."

"Clearly you have never seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail," D replies.

Oh, but I have. And just like that, I've got one more thing to worry about.

Somnambulism and Vampire Coyotes

Saturday, Jan 21, 2012

A day or two ago I was bitching about an accident I had while washing dishes.  Such was the fit of housewifely enthusiasm that took hold of me that I set to scrubbing a set of stainless steel measuring spoons with escalating (and increasingly imprecise) vigor.  Finally my hand slipped, and although the spoons were not at all sharp, the edge of one made contact with the pad of my thumb so hard and fast that  it gashed my skin open.  The resulting wound was part bruise and part cut.  In light of what happened next, I should have considered quitting my bitching.

You may also remember a somnambulist episode that I had a month and a half ago.  It was the night before I was supposed to head off to Hawaii on a long trip, and my pre-travel sleep is always... erratic, at best.  I gather that I'm quite an active sleeper.  I talk, I walk, I've been known to instant message, and if you try to tell me that I'm just sleeping and should lie back down, I might just hit.  All with only the vaguest memory left with me the next morning. On this particular night, I somehow managed to break a glass in my sleep.  I woke up, on my knees next to the bed, mid-clean-up, with my hands filled with huge shards of glass.  I wasn't hurt, but I can't describe it as my most soothing ever awakening.

I put the worst of the glass on the bedside table and went back to sleep, and a couple of hours later I woke at the crack of dawn and left town.  For the next month, I only returned home long enough to crash for a few hours and then rush off again.  During this time, I wearily picked my way around the part of the room that was still covered in shattered glass, launched myself in the vague direction of the bed, and was unconscious within seconds, sometimes before the bouncing had even calmed from my acrobatic entry.

Long story short, that glass didn't get cleaned up for five weeks.  That's the kind of housekeeper I am, and why I can't have nice things, like pets or children.  Or, apparently, real glasses.  But although I'm slovenly, I'm also canny: in the course of this five weeks, I never once cut myself on the broken glass.

Until last night.  I was collecting recycling from all over the house, and frolicked, shoeless, too close to the bag holding the shards of glass.  I brushed against the edge of it with the inside of my arch, and then looked down in shock: my right sock was already soaked in blood, and it hadn't been more than a second.

Things I learned from this incident:

  • Feet bleed a lot, and quickly.  It took me about thirty seconds to realize that this was an effect of blood pressure. "Get the cut above the level of your heart," I kept muttering to myself.  Well, let me tell you, that's something of a challenge if the cut is on your foot.  Yogic training notwithstanding, the next minute found me in a position devoid of dignity: turtlelike, on my back on the kitchen floor, one leg in the air with both hands clamping a paper towel to the wound.
  • It only takes ten seconds of bleeding to make it look like you've committed a murder in your kitchen. Seriously: it was everywhere, and it was lurid.  If I had seen it as a crime scene on TV, my only comment would have been, "Pshaw.  Everyone knows blood isn't that red."  Well, it's bloody red.  I'm here to tell you.
  • It's surprisingly hard to get bloodstains out of polished concrete floors, even if (in a fit of good housekeeping, because you've learned your lesson) you wash them as soon as the bleeding has stopped, and before you actually attend to cleaning and bandaging the wound.  I kept thinking, "Should I be bleaching this?" and then "Who are you expecting, CSI?".
  • When you live alone in Nova Scotia, the monologue that follows this sort of incident goes something like this: "OK, pull it together, Sycorax.  You've stopped the bleeding, now get rid of the bloody paper towels and get a bandage.  Wait.  So where, in the six-part garbage collection system, do the bloody paper towels go?" [I begin to feel a bit lightheaded.] "Well, they're, let's see, organic material, that's kind of a sobering way to think of your own blood, but that means... compost, great.  WAIT! But they're a meat product (shudder), so I can't put them into the yard compost.  They have to go in the city compost." [At this point I'm swaying, so I sit back down on the kitchen floor and look despondently at the bloodstains.]  "Dammit."
You know you're living a different sort of life when you begin to contemplate the fact that composting your own blood could poison future vegetable gardens and draw coyotes to your door.  Coyotes with a taste ... for Sycorax.

Degradation in Feathers: A Processional Reaction to La Dolce Vita (1960)

Friday, January 20, 2012

Is it possible to get a coherent sense of this film?  Not for me, or not on a first viewing.  It might be more appropriate to give you a series of episodes or fragments from my viewing: fractured thoughts in response to Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita.  Not a review, but a processional, a ritual progress towards the Shrine of Our Lady of the Fragments.

I saw my first Fellini (8 ½) when I was about 20, and I hated it.  Or perhaps not “hated” - rebelled against it.  More than anything else, I wanted coherence at that point in my life.  The world was vast, and I wanted to know it.  I was reluctant to cede control in the face of what already seemed overwhelming complexity. What purpose did art serve if not to be a handhold on the unscalable mountain of life?  If I couldn’t grapple with a text, it rankled. I didn’t watch another Fellini for about a decade.  Alas for a misspent youth; those years I’ll never get back.

Of course, if I were a character in this film, I’d spend those years in indolent driving, excruciating self-consciousness, and the purchase of infinite pairs of elliptical sunglasses. I’d be paying a prostitute not for her body, but for a frame that lends my life the meaning of taboo, of the illicit.

Poor Marcello. He’s on assignment puppying after a “big doll” of an American actress, all impulse and no innards. We begin almost to pity his exhaustion in the face of rapacious nymphishness of his manic pixie dream girl Sylvia, who has the same attention span and selfish absorption in sensation as the kitten she adopts and abandons in a matter of minutes.  She makes the Trevi fountain look small, a trick of scale played by her vast solipsism. (And her breasts.)

These paparazzi (a term this film spawned), hovering and clinging and crawling into the cracks of these lives like so many fruit flies, ever multiplying as their subjects grow more and more ripe. Sweeter, more openly rotten. Marcello can barely bring himself to swat them away, so humid with boredom is the air of Rome.
And of course everyone is always acting (out) for them.  Spontaneity becomes pose.

"Miracles are born in silence, not out of this confusion!" -a priest interviewed by Marcello at his next assignment: the “field of miracles.”  In this long and longing scene, we get the confusion, not the miracle.

Ah, here come children in oddly nuptial attire leading Bacchic, ecstatic crowds from spot to spot in an empty field, pointing at nothing, crying 'the Madonna!" and falling to their knees, eery giggles creeping out the corners of their mouths.  It’s Euripidean, the vengeance of being led down the path of your own arrogant desire.

Oh good, it’s time for a cocktail party blowhard - no, not Marcello, who confines himself at this boho do to caressing the hands of women who speak no Italian and admire his work (no, wait, his decorative qualities).  No, in fact it’s this man, late into middle age, who to annoy his wife responds to an Indian singer’s performance with the comment, “The only real woman is the Oriental woman. […] The Oriental woman huddles at your feet like a little tiger in love!”

I hoped too soon.  Marcelo’s now holding forth to the blowhard about the bouquet of children, all of different colors, he’d like to have. I think his attention was caught by the idea of a little tiger in love.

“You have two loves: journalism and literature.  Beware of prison.” - The eccentric poet Iris at the party.  (A messenger from the gods.)

Jesus.  They’re recording all the cocktail party conversation, wiping out the sounds of natural Sturm und Drang their host (Steiner) has recorded before. I’m largely pro-artifice, and even I find this unbearably bleak.

Children are here, again, puncturing the artificiality of it all. This film has the tragic structure of ancient Athens.  No sooner do these angelic tots arrive then I begin looking over my shoulder for Medea.

But Marcello is mistaken in his envy for Steiner’s boho-domestic bliss: his host is the first to tell him that this is too civilized, too organized, too deadened an existence.  Better to be more miserable, more free.  And then he goes off to kiss his perfect children in their swathes of protective, diaphanous curtaining. “An enchanted order,” Steiner calls the feeling of an artwork completed. The ideal of love as detachment.

The thirteenth station of this cross. The fear of tomorrow in a nuclear world.  Better to destroy the world than to live with this … waiting?  Longing?  Passing the time?

Marcello’s the kind of guy who wears a dark suit to work at a beachside restaurant whose busboy is a little boy wearing a speedo and a captain’s cap.  He’s the kind of guy who then yells at the teenaged waitress to turn off the music and let him get some work done.  (This reminds me of something my best friend said to me while visiting us in Hawaii: “You’re the only person I know who rocks a smoky eye at the beach.”  It’s true: every time.  It’s time to come to terms with it: I’m a Fellini sort of girl.)

Degradation.  In feathers.  And out of them.

A cruel (post)mistress

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

I came home from the holidays to find a marvelous, heartwarming backlog of Christmas cards, all of which now fondly grace our mantel. I'm now reminded, however, that I may have told some of you that the postal service wouldn't deliver the mail unless you put an exclamation point after the "Canada!". I may even have described it as a tyrannical whim of the postal beaver's. 

[Cough.] Sorry about that. I'm going to try to be more honest in 2012. Thank you for delivering my eccentrically addressed mail through the snow and sleet, postal beaver.

Whom God wishes to destroy, he first gives a stationary bike

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

This is what comes of living in gothic solitude, after a time: 

It is midnight, and I'm in that madwoman-in-the-attic space of Farfara the realtors called a "bonus room" (blech) but I sometimes call the Other Within in fits of anxious irony, an undefined, ignored subconscious of a vast upper-floor space tucked down a frigid corridor from the rest of the house. Maybe I should be calling it the Superego.

I was stationary-cycling away while reading a classicist's investigation of the origins of the phrase "Quem deus vult perdere, dementat prius" [Whom God wishes to destroy, he first makes mad], when my eye was caught by a long, undiscovered ledge running the length of the staircase.

"Ho ho!" I cried, scuttling over to it. (Need I add that the walls, if not quite wallpapered, are a very sickly yellow up there?) "You know what you're going to be used for, don't you, my fine friend? You're going to be a bookshelf! Just you wait, Henry Higgins...."

"Wait," I thought, suddenly self-conscious, "Are you having a conversation with a ledge?"

I hurried downstairs.

Your inside is out when your outside is in

Friday, January 13, 2012

Unknown artist, c. 1665-1670
Notice that Rochester, all cool dignity, is holding the implements
 of his poetic achievement in one hand, while he shows his real feelings
 about hipster acclaim by crowning his pet monkey with the laurels of literary greatness.
Meanwhile, the monkey, well... everyone's a critic.

This week I introduced my students to the key ideas in Restoration and Eighteenth-Century theatre with a picture of the Earl of Rochester (pattern for all rakes) that I've subtitled, "Everybody's got something to hide, 'cept for me and my monkey."

I think they really enjoyed our little foray into the life, poetry and portraiture of Rochester, kidnapper of brides and gynecological masquerader (apparently he spent some time under the name Dr. Bendo, charismatic quack specialist in women's complaints). Except for the quarter of the class who tried to tamp down increasingly urgent expressions of alarm and disgust.

Excerpts from our conversation:

I:    "So what is the difference between a a rake and a fop, really? Do you see a difference between this portrait of Colley Cibber as Lord Foppington and this picture of the Earl of Rochester?"
Colley Cibber as Lord Foppington
in Vanbrugh's The Relapse
(John Simon after Giuseppe Grisoni, c. 1700-1725)
Those sleeves are trying way too hard.
Students:    "Rochester is dressed less elaborately."
     "He seems more relaxed."
     "Yeah, there's a confidence about Rochester."
     "Lord Foppington just looks so stiff and false."
I:    "Right. you can see it in the eyes, the body language. Rakes are, to use a sophisticated piece of academic jargon, cool. Fops *want* to be cool. Rochester's got it going on, Foppington's trying too hard to get it. Rochester's invested in the pose of devil-may-care effortlessness (see the "toga" above), Foppington's all obvious artifice." 

There followed a not altogether brief discussion of the perfection of Johnny Depp's casting as Rochester.

I may also have referred to A School for Scandal as "The Gossip Girl of the Eighteenth Century." I'm not ashamed. (Mostly.)

Hitchcockian Drives and iPod Hauntings

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Last night I donned my best 40s dress and ventured forth for a party. It wasn't until I was halfway down Farfara Way (our steep and endless driveway) that I realized that the fog had rolled in. As I made my white-knuckled way along the half hour of coastal roadway, I became, really, quite a connoisseur of fog. There's the spectral mist that makes you feel like you may be driving straight through faded imprints of another time, the clinging fog that whirls around you as you flee its longing affections, and of course the pea soup fog that makes you hope you know the driveway's turns and ditches by heart, lest you become a spectral imprint before your time. What should my eerie iPod choose as the ideal accompaniment to such a wooded, murky venture, lit only by noirish sweeps of headlight?

So Hitchcockian was the moment that I began to laugh uncontrollably, by my lonesome, crouched squinting over the steering wheel of the Barge She Sat In (which is, um, the name of our new {blush, shamefaced eye aversion} SUV). Then I stopped abruptly: Pull it together, Sycorax, I told myself. This cackling isn't improving the ambiance.

On Aesthetes and Alphas: Julie James's A Lot Like Love

Sunday, January 8, 2012

"Men marry because they are tired, women because they are curious. Both are disappointed."
(Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance)

Nick McCall has just come out of a string of harsh, punishing undercover assignments.  He takes a deep breath, stretches into his real persona, and thinks with relief about heading back to Brooklyn for his mother’s birthday party.  He just has one more job to do before then: walking a rookie FBI colleague through the infiltration of a ritzy Chicago wine tasting, thrown by a man whose restaurant empire looks to be financed by the mob.  Their in to this exclusive shindig is wealthy Jordan Rhodes, daughter of one of the wealthiest men in Chicago and owner of a boutique wine store that caters to the tasting’s criminal host.  But on the night of the tasting, the rookie agent is struck by explosive stomach flu (what a beautiful start to any romance!), and Nick, who feels ill-equipped to make claims to wine-knowledge and doesn’t even own a Ralph Lauren suit), has to step in as Jordan’s “date” to infiltrate the party and bug its host’s office.  I think you can see where we go from here.

Slow starting and hot burning, this, like all of James’s novels, was not bad at all, and sometimes quite good.  I stifled a groan when I figured out that this novel was going to be about wine geekery: Père Sycorax was a wine importer, so I spent my childhood exploring a long series of mouldering cellars, sunny vineyards, and chilly liquor stores (my mother even had a game to keep me amused in wine stores, so often were we there: Find the Animals on the Wine Labels).  The result is that I know as much about wine (and more about wine people) as any teetotaler should.  When I was about four, I used to ask for my milk in a wine glass, slowly swirl it round, hold it to one nostril before carefully sipping, trilling it over my tongue and declaring “rich… with a faint bouquet of, let’s see, cow.” Let’s just say that I didn’t find Sideways to be a hilarious comedy so much as a rather underwhelming bit of realism.  But I feel like James does a pretty good job with the wine trade here, presenting it in detail and with interest.  One or two of the names she evokes in the field are even people I’ve met.

Best of all, we get a contemporary romance that is genuinely invested in the heroine’s career, not as an obstacle to happiness, but as something that is an inalienable part of her character, a component part, an essential element in her happiness.  Over and over we see her being really good at what she does, earning a reputation that is founded on her father’s fame and riches, but doesn’t rely on them.  And in tandem with the hero (more of a bourbon guy) we come to admire her for this skill, this passion, this confidence.  In fact, it is the hero here who must contemplate whether his career (at which he also excels) is compatible with his happiness, either familial or romantic.  He is happy with the resolution to this problem, but I’m not sure I am: is love always a taming for these ferocious alpha types?  Isn’t their skill (and independence) at what they do just as much a part of why we love them as the heroine’s? 

Sidebar: Career sacrifice - is it an key element in contemporary romance, and must it be? Understandably the first thing that a lot of people contemplate after falling in love today is how to align their contexts [location, domicile, career] - though D and I certainly didn’t.  But I want more love stories in which neither party has to sacrifice what they enjoy, what they are good at, the service they are dedicated to.  These are conflicts of duty and selfhood that are fascinating, and shouldn’t be easy to resolve.  This is one of the things I love about the resolution to Kristin Cashore’s impeccable Graceling, but I’ll say no more about it in case you haven’t yet read that novel.  And if you haven’t, stop reading this blog immediately and go get it.

Returning to A Lot Like Love, I have to address a gender issue: I am so freaking tired of these alpha heroes who police their masculinity so ferociously: “If he were an introspective person, one of those in-touch-with-hidden-emotions types - a.k.a. a woman, he would probably take note of the fact that it was much harder to blow off her dislike of him than it had been merely six days ago” (112).  Moments like these are hard to pick apart, because they contain the seeds of their own endorsement and undoing: he is clearly a chauvinist, but he is also clearly experiencing the emotions he so derides.  We smile knowingly at the irony, but is this recognition the same as a critique of the chauvinism?  Before anything else, there's a plausibility issue: Nick is constantly refusing to do things because “where I come from, men don’t do that,” and it's difficult to reconcile this sort of self-conscious rigidity of behavior with the fact that his great talent in life is disappearing into other identities for undercover ops.  

Nick, my darling dear, come over here
and let me tell you about
a thing called aestheticism.
Jordan seems exasperated by this too (“Nick McCall had a few too many rules - it was high time he started bending them” 188), continually prodding him into fraught experiences like wine tastings and viewings of Dancing with the Stars (“‘It’s… even worse than I’d imagined,’ he whispered, ‘Is there a reason none of these men have buttons on their shirts?’ Horrified, he took in the spray tans.  The sequins and feathers.  The caked-on make-up and the plunging necklines.  And those were the guys” 228). Even so, she is at most ambivalent about what amounts to a framing of masculinity along very narrow, implicitly homophobic lines that are inextricably imbricated with class anxiety. Even as she undermines his sexist self-conception, it’s what she really likes about him, what differentiates him from the loafer-wearers she normally dates (yes, that’s how she thinks about them, as wearers of loafers): “Maybe she needed to find more of a guy’s guy,” she thinks, “One of those men who could start a fire with two sticks, could change a flat tire with one hand tied behind his back, and wasn’t afraid that a snow shovel would scuff his cashmerelined leather Burberry gloves” (38).  His difference (figured as both gender and class difference) is what she finds erotic, what she fetishizes, while her difference makes him deeply anxious. Masculinity is a matter of class (as he acknowledges when he derides the well-dressed newbie agents straight out of Ivy  League educations), and class is defined scathingly (by both Nick and Jordan) along the lines of ability vs. appearance: “In Nick’s opinion, the only accessories an FBI agent should pair with a suit were a shoulder harness and gun.  Maybe handcuffs, depending on the formality of the occasion” (19). It’s like a terrible inversion of the complete works of Oscar Wilde. Rather than being presented as a genuine flaw, which would have been a frankly fascinating dissection of the erotics of alphaness, his narrow idea of masculinity is tsked and then endorsed.  

So, as always, I found that Julie James is a master of sexual tension and relationship-mapping, but, to a lesser extent than in her other novels, there are always small elements that rankled ideologically for me.  More than this, there is always something a little … light about these novels, in a way that I don’t think is necessarily true about romance as a genre (or even non-angsty romance). Let me take this to the meta level: for me the success of a romance novel, like any other novel, is in the extent to which it uses its form to address some larger issue in an interesting way (in other words, whether it is about something) rather than in how well it executes its arc of sexual tension and its evocation of character, although the former is useless without the latter.  This novel does the latter really well, but the former… I’m finding that harder to locate in contemporary romance than in historicals.

A Lot Like Love
Julie James
Finished January 8, 2012 in the wee hours of the morning
Book #2 of 2012 (!!)

Stray notes:

  • Interestingly, although it is often the alpha hero who must be coaxed into emotional honesty, here it is Jordan who has problems with true intimacy.  After a particularly disastrous failure of communication with Nick, she says to her twin brother (a “cyberterrorist” who has been jailed for crashing Twitter (really? Twitter goes down all the time)), “Do you ever think we’re not … open enough?… With our feelings, I mean.  I suppose we are kind of sarcastic sometimes” (206).  Needless to say, this very conversation is a violation of their bond of non-openness.  But even as she said it, I was thinking, “Wow.  And I was just admiring her for being more mature and self-protecting with Nick than I, with my zeal for emotional intimacy and, er, histrionics, ever would have been.  Is self-protection a flaw?  Isn’t dignity, after all, another word for emotional restraint?
  • There are definite moments of cheese sprinkled throughout the novel. I won’t inflict them on you, but caveat emptor.
  • This novel is a model of how to bring back characters from a previous volume.  Cranky Agent Pallas makes numerous appearances amidst great sexual tension with both DA Cameron Lynde and (homosocially speaking) Nick.  I hate it when characters abruptly fade to inconsequence after we’ve been taught to invest so much in their subjectivity in previous novels, so I really admired this.   Especially fine was the moment in which Pallas, obviously ambitious, admits that he is ceding the first massive career achievement to Cameron, with obvious pride in the fact that she “got there first.”  At the same time, I’d like to have gotten a greater sense of differentiation between that couple and this one: in what ways are these individual people with their own philosophical and social problems rather than an echo of types we see come together again and again in James’s work?
  • This is one of those novels in which the hero is entranced by the heroine’s pleasure in consumption.  I’m going to call this trope a “Tom Jones” - the erotics of food and drink.

Woodsmen and Yogic Cats

Today at the most Middlemarchian yoga on earth, I came out of cat pose and into cow pose to find a little wet nose touching mine. I opened my eyes in surprise to find an equally surprised furry face a centimeter away. What were we doing, the cat wondered, and when would we realize that the only true yogic practice is sitting back on your tail with one leg raised straight in the air and the other stretched perpendicular to it along the floor (a pose known in feline circles as "Playing the cello"). If you want to add an extra challenge here, try licking your own belly.

Post-yoga conversation today featured questions of how to quell a vengeful spirit when your neighbor comes onto your land and cuts your trees in half (or, in one case, tells your own woodsman to cut down your trees, because, need I remind you, Prospect Bay does not exist wholeheartedly in the modern moment), and then, confronted by the illegality of this act, says first, "But you realize it was blocking my view?" and then, aggressively, "If they die, I don't want to have to look at ugly holes in the ground."


The secret language of stamps

Friday, January 6, 2012

Reader, dearest reader,

I send you this link in an envelope with a stamp in the upper right corner placed reverse diagonally, face down. I await your response with some trepidation.

-Sycorax Pine

Immigration as Romance: Gauging my Intentions

Friday, January 6, 2012

Going through passport control in Halifax feels more and more like I'm presenting myself in my tuxedo before my prom date's father. I began to think this some eight or ten months ago when a border control agent looked at my work permit and said these words, "So what are your intentions, when this expires?". He narrowed his eyes at me. "Um," I said, "I love it here. I'd like to stay, if I can." His face assumed an expression I had previously associated with unhungry cats; he all but purred. "Good, that's what I like to hear."

This time, when I crossed the border, I had a lovely chat with the border agent about how she always thought she would become an English teacher, and she didn't know how she ended up where she was.

She glanced at my work permit. "This expires soon, you know." "I know," I said with warmth, "I've just been renewed, so now I have some paperwork to do." "How long have you been here?" she asked. "Let's see, two and a half years now." She gave me a look that I'd always assumed was related to near-strangers' advice about the social imperative of marriage (a "you've had your fun, some day you have to grow up and adhere to convention" look), and then she said these words with expectant subtext, looking up at me through her lashes in a manner that was too firm too be coy: "Another few years and you'll have some *choices* to make."

Epochal Vertigo

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Today I went to yoga for the first time at the place in "the village." We gathered in a one-room building that sits almost directly on the Bay (it holds seven people), and while we did our precarious waverings (er, strong Warrior poses) we watched the ducks swimming amidst desultory snow and a very curious kitten peering indignantly at us through the French doors leading out to Shad Bay. After class, the cats got to join us inside while we had tea and cookies and gossiped about how to contain the neighbor across the bay who is poaching on Crown land. 

Because somehow I'm now living in both an episode of Gilmore Girls and a George Eliot novel.