So strange to be in the young alumni tent, look around, and think “this is what it felt like when I was in college, these were the people.”
There’s something so special about this place. I am not one to wax poetic about locations — I am ‘transitory’ at best, but Brown is different. It isn’t until you leave that you realize not everyone treats their college, not just their ‘experience’, but the whole package, as something so … loving? happy? Not that everyone here is happy for four years, but even when you’re not excited for life, you can be excited for Brown, for the feeling that the school brings you. It’s the exact opposite of an impersonal, indifferent experience. How can you be sad when Ruth is so happy? Who else holds a flashmob for a departing president with a giant main green celebration with tons of legit free food and a crowd that is legitimately sad to see her go?
There’s definitely something to the ‘happiest college’ stereotype about Brown. Not everyone will love it, but the type that would tends to congregate here, and they cultivate a culture that, in retrospect, was shockingly unselfish and anti-gloryhunting, relative to what you’d expect from this type of school. All these stupid things that I worried about in high school (and now, after college) with people placing value on the dumbest things, being hypercompetitive about transitory shit, sticking their noses in places that they have no business being in, and puffing out their chests while darting their eyes at their neighbors… I forgot that I didn’t really deal with that for four years. It’s not that campus feels like a closed off bubble of happiness. It’s more that being here is always so comforting. Like returning home, but not even realizing that it IS ‘home’, because it feels so natural. How wonderful it was to arrive here four years ago and realize that academic success did not have to involve thriving off of negativity. And how much easier doing well in school became after that turned into the status quo.
It’s nice that finding alum in random places means that there’s a good chance this person a) had a good time in college b) actually liked the institution itself c) has really varied interests d) is actually good at these varied interests e) would love to hear about your own interests and f) could be obnoxious, but hey, the standards for people who aren’t completely terrible in the ‘real world’ are so low that I will take whatever I can get. There’s something to be said for NOT relishing in mutual misery as a bonding experience. And of course, there are annoying grads and assholes everywhere, but it’s almost awe-inspiring when even someone as misanthropic as myself finds that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Congrats, seventeen-year-old me. You made the right decision.
Have officially lived on the East Coast for over four years.
Must strive to reverse undesirable New England habits, including, but not limited to: not smiling at strangers on the street, deferring to awkwardness, inability to hold eye contact, expecting anyone who works a cash register to have a terrible attitude.
Meanwhile - allow conversations to transpire without first mentally projecting their course. Try to judge others a little less harshly when it often seems to be the path of least resistance. Remember that generosity is better unacknowledged than unpaid.
The past few months have been dedicated to more movies than books. It’s a bit frightening to project so much of life on arbitrary works of supposed art (or perhaps it’s the other way around). There’s something comforting, or even unsettling, in finding a filmmaker, an artist, a writer, etc. who sees the world on the same uneven axis as yourself. And you realize - you’re not alone. Even if you’re sitting alone on your couch, eating an apple, engrossed in situations which simultaneously have everything and nothing to do with you.
Last month, I went to a Rachael Yamagata concert with @questionablepearls. The concert was wonderful, but also a culmination of many years of listening to her music under the most varied circumstances. Perhaps the most memorable is sitting outside the counseling office of LSMSA in Natchitoches a week or so after Katrina with a few displaced friends, wondering where I’d even be by this time next month. A girl from my high school in New Orleans approached me. She looked at my iPod and made a comment about Rachael Yamagata. It was probably a thirty second conversation. But skip to December 2011, and there the song is. The same as ever.
“We die containing a richness of lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have plunged into and swum up as if rivers of wisdom, characters we have climbed into as if trees, fears we have hidden in as if caves.
I wish for all this to be marked on by body when I am dead. I believe in such cartography - to be marked by nature, not just to label ourselves on a map like the names of rich men and women on buildings. We are communal histories, communal books. We are not owned or monogamous in our taste or experience.”
There are moments when I think taking time off is worth it just so I can set aside the space to read books like The English Patient. The language is lush and poetic, while still retaining a bit of blunt cruelty. I wish there were more books out there like this one. Books about the nature of relationships, time, coincidence, violence, loss, belonging. To be emotionally accurate is, at least to me, what literature should embody.
I watched the movie after finishing the novel. It’s a wonderful translation, albeit not exactly a full one (the ending really got the shaft). I wonder why so many people despise it so much. It is a bit slow, but so is the source material, and much of the pacing is the very point of the story. I wish people would stop referring to movies like this as ‘pretentious’ - what does that even mean?
Both book and movie make you think. About the images that endure after war. The brief moments that fill up a greater space than non-stop action could ever buy. Many call the novel a ‘romance’ or ‘love story.’ Perhaps a better descriptor is that this is a novel about manifestations of love. How often it bleeds through the boundaries we set. So one learns to not view individual stories through facts. Instead, Ondaatje shows how love leans into the environment in which it is built. And how easily that crumbles.
Over the years, Sammy had regretted nearly everything about his affair with Bacon except, until now, its secrecy. The need for stealth and concealment was something that he had always taken for granted as a necessary condition both of that love and of the shadow loves, each paler and more furtive than the last, that it had cast. Back in the summer of 1941, they had stood to lose so much, it seemed, through the shame and ruination of exposure. Sammy could not have known that one day he would come to regard all the things that their loving each other had seemed to put at so much risk – his career in comic books, his relations with his family, his place in the world – as the walls of a prison, an airless, lightless keep from which there was no hope of escape.
This was an incredible novel, despite my initial doubts about the subject matter (comic books?). Michael Chabon’s writing style is not effortlessly elegant, but it moves at a pace that reminds me of children’s books. Slow down, and you’ll catch the details. The outline is, ultimately, just as compelling as the details. I rarely read books with this type of tone - I love lush, meandering prose that describes emotion, art, and life in a way that compresses the surface area of any pore that could absorb it into a compact shape that flits back and forth while maintaining a frighteningly high density.
But Kavalier and Clay was exciting. It sped along like a pulp, but held zero pretensions about its subject matter and infused the prose with a surprisingly rich vocabulary. And, for once, it wasn’t the style that drew me in, but the story. A story that managed to flip my preferences for the various characters as it progressed, a story free of needless vulgarity, a story which modeled itself after the nostalgic sheen of the period, after a zeitgeist that imbued itself with hope rather than narcissism, after how the fleeting, episodic nature of life can add up to only a small flash of recognition. And it restores my faith a bit in books that don’t chart the exact paths of our thoughts in order to evoke a strong emotion. Most of all, I’m glad that, no matter what path one may choose to get there, that sense of emotion will always be the driving factor.
I’ve finished Murakami’s latest novel, IQ84, after a few weeks of reading off and on followed by a spurt of speed-reading. To preface: Murakami is one of my favorite authors, and Sputnik Sweetheart is in my top five favorite books, ever. And I read quite a lot of novels, to put it lightly. But 1Q84 really didn’t do it for me.
It’s possible that it was the translation - but I don’t think so. Murakami almost dips into ‘parody of himself’ territory with this one, even though it’s as page-turning as ever. He has a habit of intertextual allusion and subtlety, but I felt as though its usage in 1Q84 was a bit trite. Ultimately, what holds vague writing together is a suggestion of collective emotional sentiment lying underneath an incomprehensible world. In that respect, Orwell’s original 1984 is far superior.
What I love about Murakami is his simplicity: he can take a small idea and let it remain small even though the world around it is expanding. Add a touch of the surreal, and you get something very beautiful. Perhaps simplicity isn’t the right word - it’s more of a transparent complexity. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of “show, don’t tell” here, even with his tried and true themes of nostalgia, loneliness, and words as isolation.
At first I wondered - was it me who changed, or Murakami? Surely his appeal couldn’t be based on whatever 1Q84’s foundations appear to be made out of. But I think I understand now: the Murakami books I love show how our emotions can physically manifest themselves in otherworldly ways, and how the pain that arises from this recognition is nearly a universal trait. To do that, you don’t have to be the ‘master of your craft’ in the way of Margaret Atwood or Nabokov. The truth is, Murakami isn’t as ‘good’ of a writer, technically, as they are. It’s ironic that much of 1Q84 revolves around how a fascinating idea can be tweaked from its skeleton to a rich, literary work. I’m not sure what collective emotional chord he’s trying to strike here, but everything feels a bit fake, and not in an intriguing way. Shame, really.