Monday, March 31, 2008

My Blogiversary party! (part two)

For entertainment, I bring you (major thanks to SJ for sharing this story with me)...
(from this website)
The Green Door
by O'Henry

Suppose you should be walking down Broadway after dinner, with ten
minutes allotted to the consummation of your cigar while you are
choosing between a diverting tragedy and something serious in the way
of vaudeville. Suddenly a hand is laid upon your arm. You turn to
look into the thrilling eyes of a beautiful woman, wonderful in
diamonds and Russian sables. She thrusts hurriedly into your hand
an extremely hot buttered roll, flashes out a tiny pair of scissors,
snips off the second button of your overcoat, meaningly ejaculates
the one word, "parallelogram!" and swiftly flies down a cross street,
looking back fearfully over her shoulder.

That would be pure adventure. Would you accept it? Not you. You
would flush with embarrassment; you would sheepishly drop the roll
and continue down Broadway, fumbling feebly for the missing button.
This you would do unless you are one of the blessed few in whom the
pure spirit of adventure is not dead.

True adventurers have never been plentiful. They who are set down in
print as such have been mostly business men with newly invented
methods. They have been out after the things they wanted--golden
fleeces, holy grails, lady loves, treasure, crowns and fame. The
true adventurer goes forth aimless and uncalculating to meet and
greet unknown fate. A fine example was the Prodigal Son--when he
started back home.

Half-adventurers--brave and splendid figures--have been numerous.
>From the Crusades to the Palisades they have enriched the arts of
history and fiction and the trade of historical fiction. But each
of them had a prize to win, a goal to kick, an axe to grind, a race
to run, a new thrust in tierce to deliver, a name to carve, a crow to
pick--so they were not followers of true adventure.

In the big city the twin spirits Romance and Adventure are always
abroad seeking worthy wooers. As we roam the streets they slyly peep
at us and challenge us in twenty different guises. Without knowing
why, we look up suddenly to see in a window a face that seems to
belong to our gallery of intimate portraits; in a sleeping
thoroughfare we hear a cry of agony and fear coming from an empty and
shuttered house; instead of at our familiar curb, a cab-driver
deposits us before a strange door, which one, with a smile, opens for
us and bids us enter; a slip of paper, written upon, flutters down to
our feet from the high lattices of Chance; we exchange glances of
instantaneous hate, affection and fear with hurrying strangers in the
passing crowds; a sudden douse of rain--and our umbrella may be
sheltering the daughter of the Full Moon and first cousin of the
Sidereal System; at every corner handkerchiefs drop, fingers beckon,
eyes besiege, and the lost, the lonely, the rapturous, the
mysterious, the perilous, changing clues of adventure are slipped
into our fingers. But few of us are willing to hold and follow them.
We are grown stiff with the ramrod of convention down our backs. We
pass on; and some day we come, at the end of a very dull life, to
reflect that our romance has been a pallid thing of a marriage or
two, a satin rosette kept in a safe-deposit drawer, and a lifelong
feud with a steam radiator.

Rudolf Steiner was a true adventurer. Few were the evenings on which
he did not go forth from his hall bedchamber in search of the
unexpected and the egregious. The most interesting thing in life
seemed to him to be what might lie just around the next corner.
Sometimes his willingness to tempt fate led him into strange paths.
Twice he had spent the night in a station-house; again and again he
had found himself the dupe of ingenious and mercenary tricksters; his
watch and money had been the price of one flattering allurement. But
with undiminished ardour he picked up every glove cast before him
into the merry lists of adventure.

One evening Rudolf was strolling along a crosstown street in the
older central part of the city. Two streams of people filled the
sidewalks--the home-hurrying, and that restless contingent that
abandons home for the specious welcome of the thousand-candle-power
~table d'hote~.

The young adventurer was of pleasing presence, and moved serenely and
watchfully. By daylight he was a salesman in a piano store. He wore
his tie drawn through a topaz ring instead of fastened with a stick
pin; and once he had written to the editor of a magazine that
"Junie's Love Test" by Miss Libbey, had been the book that had most
influenced his life.

During his walk a violent chattering of teeth in a glass case on the
sidewalk seemed at first to draw his attention (with a qualm), to a
restaurant before which it was set; but a second glance revealed the
electric letters of a dentist's sign high above the next door. A
giant negro, fantastically dressed in a red embroidered coat, yellow
trousers and a military cap, discreetly distributed cards to those of
the passing crowd who consented to take them.

This mode of dentistic advertising was a common sight to Rudolf.
Usually he passed the dispenser of the dentist's cards without
reducing his store; but tonight the African slipped one into his hand
so deftly that he retained it there smiling a little at the
successful feat.

When he had travelled a few yards further he glanced at the card
indifferently. Surprised, he turned it over and looked again with
interest. One side of the card was blank; on the other was written
in ink three words, "The Green Door." And then Rudolf saw, three
steps in front of him, a man throw down the card the negro had given
him as he passed. Rudolf picked it up. It was printed with the
dentist's name and address and the usual schedule of "plate work" and
"bridge work" and specious promises of "painless" operations.

The adventurous piano salesman halted at the corner and considered.
Then he crossed the street, walked down a block, recrossed and joined
the upward current of people again. Without seeming to notice the
negro as he passed the second time, he carelessly took the card that
was handed him. Ten steps away he inspected it. In the same
handwriting that appeared on the first card "The Green Door" was
inscribed upon it. Three or four cards were tossed to the pavement
by pedestrians both following and leading him. These fell blank side
up. Rudolf turned them over. Every one bore the printed legend of
the dental "parlours."

Rarely did the arch sprite Adventure need to beckon twice to Rudolf
Steiner, his true follower. But twice it had been done, and the
quest was on.

Rudolf walked slowly back to where the giant negro stood by the case
of rattling teeth. This time as he passed he received no card. In
spite of his gaudy and ridiculous garb, the Ethiopian displayed a
natural barbaric dignity as he stood, offering the cards suavely to
some, allowing others to pass unmolested. Every half minute he
chanted a harsh, unintelligible phrase akin to the jabber of car
conductors and grand opera. And not only did he withhold a card this
time, but it seemed to Rudolf that he received from the shining and
massive black countenance a look of cold, almost contemptuous

The look stung the adventurer. He read in it a silent accusation
that he had been found wanting. Whatever the mysterious written
words on the cards might mean, the black had selected him twice from
the throng for their recipient; and now seemed to have condemned him
as deficient in the wit and spirit to engage the enigma.

Standing aside from the rush, the young man made a rapid estimate of
the building in which he conceived that his adventure must lie. Five
stories high it rose. A small restaurant occupied the basement.

The first floor, now closed, seemed to house millinery or furs. The
second floor, by the winking electric letters, was the dentist's.
Above this a polyglot babel of signs struggled to indicate the abodes
of palmists, dressmakers, musicians and doctors. Still higher up
draped curtains and milk bottles white on the window sills proclaimed
the regions of domesticity.

After concluding his survey Rudolf walked briskly up the high flight
of stone steps into the house. Up two flights of the carpeted
stairway he continued; and at its top paused. The hallway there was
dimly lighted by two pale jets of gas one--far to his right, the
other nearer, to his left. He looked toward the nearer light and saw,
within its wan halo, a green door. For one moment he hesitated; then
he seemed to see the contumelious sneer of the African juggler of
cards; and then he walked straight to the green door and knocked
against it.

Moments like those that passed before his knock was answered measure
the quick breath of true adventure. What might not be behind those
green panels! Gamesters at play; cunning rogues baiting their traps
with subtle skill; beauty in love with courage, and thus planning to
be sought by it; danger, death, love, disappointment, ridicule--any
of these might respond to that temerarious rap.

A faint rustle was heard inside, and the door slowly opened. A girl
not yet twenty stood there, white-faced and tottering. She loosed
the knob and swayed weakly, groping with one hand. Rudolf caught her
and laid her on a faded couch that stood against the wall. He closed
the door and took a swift glance around the room by the light of a
flickering gas jet. Neat, but extreme poverty was the story that he

The girl lay still, as if in a faint. Rudolf looked around the room
excitedly for a barrel. People must be rolled upon a barrel who--no,
no; that was for drowned persons. He began to fan her with his hat.
That was successful, for he struck her nose with the brim of his
derby and she opened her eyes. And then the young man saw that hers,
indeed, was the one missing face from his heart's gallery of intimate
portraits. The frank, grey eyes, the little nose, turning pertly
outward; the chestnut hair, curling like the tendrils of a pea vine,
seemed the right end and reward of all his wonderful adventures. But
the face was wofully thin and pale.

The girl looked at him calmly, and then smiled.

"Fainted, didn't I?" she asked, weakly. "Well, who wouldn't? You
try going without anything to eat for three days and see!"

"Himmel!" exclaimed Rudolf, jumping up. "Wait till I come back."

He dashed out the green door and down the stairs. In twenty minutes
he was back again, kicking at the door with his toe for her to open
it. With both arms he hugged an array of wares from the grocery and
the restaurant. On the table he laid them--bread and butter, cold
meats, cakes, pies, pickles, oysters, a roasted chicken, a bottle of
milk and one of redhot tea.

"This is ridiculous," said Rudolf, blusteringly, "to go without
eating. You must quit making election bets of this kind. Supper is
ready." He helped her to a chair at the table and asked: "Is there
a cup for the tea?" "On the shelf by the window," she answered.
When he turned again with the cup he saw her, with eyes shining
rapturously, beginning upon a huge Dill pickle that she had rooted
out from the paper bags with a woman's unerring instinct. He took it
from her, laughingly, and poured the cup full of milk. "Drink that
first" he ordered, "and then you shall have some tea, and then a
chicken wing. If you are very good you shall have a pickle
to-morrow. And now, if you'll allow me to be your guest we'll have

He drew up the other chair. The tea brightened the girl's eyes and
brought back some of her colour. She began to eat with a sort of
dainty ferocity like some starved wild animal. She seemcd to regard
the young man's presence and the aid he had rendered her as a natural
thing--not as though she undervalued the conventions; but as one
whose great stress gave her the right to put aside the artificial for
the human. But gradually, with the return of strength and comfort,
came also a sense of the little conventions that belong; and she
began to tell him her little story. It was one of a thousand such as
the city yawns at every day--the shop girl's story of insufficient
wages, further reduced by "fines" that go to swell the store's
profits; of time lost through illness; and then of lost positions,
lost hope, and--the knock of the adventurer upon the green door.

But to Rudolf the history sounded as big as the Iliad or the crisis
in "Junie's Love Test."

"To think of you going through all that," he exclaimed.

"It was something fierce," said the girl, solemnly.

"And you have no relatives or friends in the city?"

"None whatever."

"I am all alone in the world, too," said Rudolf, after a pause.

"I am glad of that," said the girl, promptly; and somehow it pleased
the young man to hear that she approved of his bereft condition.

Very suddenly her eyelids dropped and she sighed deeply.

"I'm awfully sleepy," she said, "and I feel so good."

Then Rudolf rose and took his hat. "I'll say good-night. A long
night's sleep will be fine for you."

He held out his hand, and she took it and said "good-night." But
her eyes asked a question so eloquently, so frankly and pathetically
that he answered it with words.

"Oh, I'm coming back to-morrow to see how you are getting along. You
can't get rid of me so easily."

Then, at the door, as though the way of his coming had been so much
less important than the fact that he had come, she asked: "How did
you come to knock at my door?"

He looked at her for a moment, remembering the cards, and felt a
sudden jealous pain. What if they had fallen into other hands as
adventurous as his? Quickly he decided that she must never know the
truth. He would never let her know that he was aware of the strange
expedient to which she had been driven by her great distress.

"One of our piano tuners lives in this house," he said. "I knocked
at your door by mistake."

The last thing he saw in the room before the green door closed was
her smile.

At the head of the stairway he paused and looked curiously about him.
And then he went along the hallway to its other end; and, coming
back, ascended to the floor above and continued his puzzled
explorations. Every door that he found in the house was painted

Wondering, he descended to the sidewalk. The fantastic African was
still there. Rudolf confronted him with his two cards in his hand.

"Will you tell me why you gave me these cards and what they mean?"
he asked.

In a broad, good-natured grin the negro exhibited a splendid
advertisement of his master's profession.

"Dar it is, boss," he said, pointing down the street. "But I 'spect
you is a little late for de fust act."

Looking the way he pointed Rudolf saw above the entrance to a theatre
the blazing electric sign of its new play, "The Green Door."

"I'm informed dat it's a fust-rate show, sah," said the negro. "De
agent what represents it pussented me with a dollar, sah, to
distribute a few of his cards along with de doctah's. May I offer
you one of de doctah's cards, sah?"

At the corner of the block in which he lived Rudolf stopped for a
glass of beer and a cigar. When he had come out with his lighted
weed he buttoned his coat, pushed back his hat and said, stoutly, to
the lamp post on the corner:

"All the same, I believe it was the hand of Fate that doped out the
way for me to find her."

Which conclusion, under the circumstances, certainly admits Rudolf
Steiner to the ranks of the true followers of Romance and Adventure.

This story really sums up my experience at Stern, I have to say. It holds the keys to adventurising. Many people ask me how SJ and I manage to have so many adventures. Well, here's how, the rules taken straight from this story:

1. Be spontaneous. You can't plan an adventure. You just have to go out and aimlessly walk around. Or you could be walking home from somewhere. But don't have any rigid plans in your head. Rigidity ruins adventure.

2. Open your eyes. But, you might insist, of course my eyes are open! How else would I be able to see where I was going? Ah, but the trick here is not to see where you are going but to notice where everyone else is going. Be open minded. Notice things around you. Adventures are everywhere, but most of the time, we walk right past them.

3. Walk leisurely. Don't rush anywhere. Rushing leads to passing by things. You don't want to pass anything by if you really want an adventure.

4. See things for their possibilities. This is also known as having an imagination. If you see everything at its face value, you'll miss crucial adventure opportunities. See things for what they could be and then make them those things. A book store is not just a book store. It's a treasure box of interesting, wacky, adventurous things. Crowds are not just annoying. They hold tons of quirky, wonky people. Keep your ears open. Listen to their conversations (that's right - eavesdrop). You'll be surprised what you come away with.

5. Be gutsy. Take chances. You only live once.

Adventures are everywhere. You just have to be willing to see them.

Now this blogiversary party is coming to an end. I highly encourage you all to try the transmogrifier in part one of the party! I'm the only one who did, so far!

And for your door prize, I bring you a gift from both myself and Fudge:

Nothing Like A Dat


Sunday, March 30, 2008

My Blogiversary party! (part one)

On March 28, I was able to say that I had been on Blogger and writing a blog for exactly one year. So I invite you all to my Blogiversary party! What better way to spend a Saturday night, huh? (Btw, feel free to give me virtual presents!)

These are the highlights of my first year as a blogger:

My first real post (a day after my introductory post)
My brother and hockey - the end of an era
Aliyah angst
On Yom Hazikaron and Achdut
The gushing of an English major
Finals Poem #1
The Delivery Boy - this posts feels freakishly like foreshadowing. *shudders*
Fiftieth post! And first day on the job: fun with phones
Internship fun
Random rainstorms
HarryPotterHarryPotter! Yeah!
Um, no one has to read this. But I felt weird not including it. Letter to Dr. Schwebel.
Wuat??? What kind of letter is this???
Being good is annoying
Writer's angst
Erachet the Philosopher
Mind the gap
This sounds like it could be a comic strip
Twenty-first birthday
Tales of Cicero the Goldfish
Tales of Cicero the Goldfish: The Sequel
On being afraid
Pride and Prejudice: life lessons
Nighttime and Virginia Woolf
On Perseverence
On having a hero complex
Just one of my many adventures with SJ
On writing papers
On prayer
The Not Much syndrome
An adventure in the evil stairwell by the seventh floor
Ezzie made me put this in. The writing is really awful.
The Seven Things meme
Blogging: Shakespeare style
How I learned to call out in class
Remember when Blogger started the little Blogger icons?
On facing yourself to someone else
Semper fi!
Finals Poem #2
On growing up
Devil Squirrel!
This is for the comments, aka, how Erachet beats G in battle
On what really goes on in the mind of a student
This should be a movie
Sleeping meme
Art part one
Triumphs in driving
Curiously, I have not had a good post in a while. So I bring you a poem about it.

And, for the main event....


And for the party activity, we have a...


transmogrifier! This is a cardboard box from Calvin and Hobbes which can turn you into anything you want to be! Anyone want to have a go?

I'll go first. I think I'll transmogrify into...a chipmunk who is good at charades!

Also, since I wrote this so late last night, I didn't really get to properly write anything. Thanks to everyone who I became friends with over the course of this year (beginning last march), and especially thanks to Serach and Ezzie (and Bana) for having me over a bunch of times and being awesome (and for living near the pretzel place). This year has been so much fun (with its serious moments) and I can't wait to see what adventures the next one brings!

Also, thanks to the Stern play last year and to the absolutely awful review of it in the Commentator because without that (and Chana's post about it), I'd never have been inspired to start blogging!

So yeah, thanks to all my amazing friends and...


(party to be continued...)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

My blog is a quaint, sleepy village

My blog is a quaint, sleepy village
Where often I do not write posts
There's not much for hackers to pillage
Unless they want loquacious ghosts

My blog is the moors after midnight
Where the moon ever gently glides by
It's wild and untamed like the twilight
But the wild things hide 'neath the sky

My blog is the sea when it's breezy
There's always a small bit of stir
But never will you become queasy
For not much at all will occur

My blog is a far-away woodland
That does not exist in this world
It's full of potential for things grand
But those grand things have not yet unfurled

My blog is an unpainted canvas
A good place to think and to dream
You can duel wicked foes with a cutlass
Or can sit eating berries and cream

My blog is a tale with no ending
A song with no final down-beat
On long journeys it could begin bending
So please do, if you wish, take a seat

Fan art

I rarely do things like fan art and fan fiction, but this was just calling me:








Sunday, March 23, 2008

Why I love the GPS

This is not a long post, nor is it a deep, thought provoking one. I am writing this post mainly to get over my glee of driving to the Five Towns for the first time IN THE DARK. BY MYSELF. AND ON THE WAY BACK, I REMEMBERED TO PUT ON MY LIGHTS AFTER ONLY TWO MINUTES OF DRIVING. AND I DID NOT GET LOST. Wait, wait. Let's make a list:

Accomplishments for Tonight
1. Driving to the Five Towns by myself
2. Driving in the dark by myself
3. Remembering to put on my lights on the way there, and only forgetting to turn them on in the beginning of the way back
4. Not getting lost
5. Knowing my rights from lefts
6. Successfully avoiding the highway even when the GPS told me to go there
7. Making it home in one piece and in a normal amount of time


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Wicked Fun

I know I haven't updated in a while - especially not a real update - but I'm going to cheat a little and use some fun youtube videos as an excuse for posting. But they're not just fun, they're wicked fun! And...they're all from Wicked! Wicked is probably my favorite musical ever, tied with Les Miserables. I saw it twice (the first time really early on with the original cast and the second time SJ and I won the show lottery and got front row seats). And so, for your entertainment tonight, we have...

Kristin Chenoweth's last performance of the song Popular. Check out what goes on starting from 5:30. I've seen this show twice and I'm positive that part was added in as a special thing for Kristin Chenoweth's last night. rated: HILARIOUS.

This is an absolute tear-jerker. It's also from Kristin Chenoweth's last night. It keeps reminding me of all the awesome bonding that I keep missing that happens when you're in a show. :(

And this is absolutely hilarious. REAL, LIVE BLOOPERS. See, things can go wrong even in a Broadway musical. We just all have to learn to deal with the things life sends our way. And hopefully, we're all a little bit good at improv, too. :D

This last one is dedicated to all my friends who read my blog (you all know who you're probably the only ones reading at this point, anyway :P). Yeah, it's sappy, but there's never a wrong time to let you all know how much I appreciate you and how much you guys have influenced me. So! Let the sap begin:

Thank you all for being such a great audience! *bows* *exits stage left*

Sunday, March 9, 2008

This is for the English majors and other word-lovers:

Mary Poppins:
When trying to express oneself, it's frankly quite absurd,
To leaf through lengthy lexicons to find the perfect word.
A little spontaniaty keeps conversation keen,
You need to find a way to say precisely what you mean...

Even though the sound of it is something quite atrosicous!
If you say it loud enough, you'll always sound precocious,


Mary Poppins:
When Stone Age men were chatting, merely grunting would suffice.

Now if they heard this word, they might have used it once or twice!

Mrs. Corry:
I'm sure Egyptian pharoahs would have grasped it in a jiff,
Then every single pyramid would bear this hieroglyph;

Say it and wild animals would not seem so ferocious!

Mary Poppins:
Add some further flourishes, it's so ro-co-co-coscious!


The Druids could have carved it on their mighty monoliths!

Mrs. Corry:
I'm certain the ancient Greeks would have used it in their midst!

Mary Poppins:
I'm sure the Roman Empire only entered the abyss,
Because those Latin scholars never had a word like this!


Mary Poppins:
If you say it softly the effect can be hypnoscious!

Check your breath before you speak, in case it's halitotious!


Mary Poppins (spoken):
Of course you can say it backwards, which is Suoicodilaipxecitsiligarfilacrepus!

Michael (spoken):
She may be tricky, but she's bloody good!

Mary Poppins:
So when the cat has got your tongue, there's no need for dismay!
Just summon up this word and then you've got a lot to say!

Pick out those eighteen consonants and sixteen vowels as well,
And put them in an order which is very hard to spell...

Mary Poppins:

Jane and Michael:




Bert (spoken):
Here we go!

Even though the sound of it is something quite atroscious!
If you say it loud enough, you'll always sound precocious,

Jane and Michael:


As you might have guessed, I saw Mary Poppins today on Broadway and it was spectacular. It wasn't Les Miz, it wasn't Wicked, but it was definitely an amazing show. I absolutely loved the way it didn't try to copy the movie but instead went completely in its own direction. I think when you're competing with something as classic and legendary as the Mary Poppins movie, and especially a production by Julie Andrews, it's best to do your own thing and to reinterpret the story and the roles in a way that makes it your own as opposed to trying to mimic the greats. Mimicking will get you nowhere aside from comments like, "she was good, but not Julie Andrews" or "it was fun, but it wasn't the movie." I actually found Ashley Brown's (the actress) portrayal of Mary Poppins to be COMPLETELY different from the one characterized by Julie Andrews, and it worked well. Gavin Lee, who played Bert, did seem like he was modeling himself after Dick Van Dyke, but that worked just fine anyway. I think that particular role does work best the way Dick Van Dyke did it and Gavin Lee was good enough to pull it off. I was sad about the noticeable (for me) absence of the suffragette song, but there were enough fun, new songs and new scenes that made it a great show, anyway. It was based a lot more on the books than the movie, which was a nice move on their part. Also, fun fact for SJ, Ashley Brown ALSO played Belle on Broadway. :D

Highly recommended if you're in the mood for some good, quality fun!

Why I could not write about the terrorist attack at Mercaz Harav

There are so many amazing posts out there about people's reactions to the tragedy at Mercaz Harav. So why did I not contribute? Why did I direct my attention elsewhere? Why did I write about other things and not about the one thing that truly deserved to be written about - that called out to every one of us, begging us to write?

Maybe it's because what happened at Mercaz Harav is too tremendous for me to have coherent thoughts which I can actually type out. I'm sad, I'm upset, I'm distraught, even, but I can't add to what has already been written unless I reiterate the way this event has struck me and the rest of Am Yisrael. But who needs reiteration?

Mercaz Harav is a place many Americans know, so it is not a surprise that the attack there elicited such a strong reaction from the Jewish American community. But for me, instead of wanting to cry out, instead of transcribing my emotions to paper as I do on occasion, I turned inward. I became extremely introspective and have been barely able to address this issue in a somewhat coherent fashion until right now, and even now I don't know what I'm supposed to say. It helps no one to start describing the feelings of despair - not when everyone else is feeling it.

And yet, I feel as though if I don't write about the event, I'll be overlooking it. So perhaps this counts as my obligatory post on the tragedy of Mercaz Harav. Or perhaps it does not. Perhaps it's a cop-out, because I'm not really writing about the event itself, but rather, I'm writing about writing about it.

I hope you all understand why I could not write a post sufficiently describing the pain Am Yisrael is going through and why I could not contribute to the outcry. I just don't know how to do it. For me, I'm much more action-minded at times like these. Instead of mourning, I get angry. I want to teach all the terrorists a lesson. But since that is all fantasy, the only thing to do is try and deal with it the best I can, but the best I can seems to be not addressing the issue at all. Maybe I'm just afraid of crying or of anything that makes me feel uncomfortable. I don't know.

All I know is, now, more than ever, we need to mean it when we say Am Yisrael Chai.

And now I must return to grappling with the contradiction of Mi'shenichnas Adar Marbim B'simcha.

Adar sameach, everyone.

A Defense of Art, Part 2, or More on the Trashy Novel Stuff

The Apple was so kind as to email me this article from the New York Times. Instead of providing a link, I just copied and pasted the whole thing, you if you want the link, it's here.

Great Literature? Depends Whodunit

Published: February 3, 2008

IN a British court recently, an author said, in effect, that glue-sniffing had made her write a thriller. The author, Joan Brady, is a 68-year-old American who has lived in England for the last several decades and in 1993 became the first woman to win the Whitbread book prize. She received a £115,000 out-of-court settlement after arguing that fumes from the glue and solvents used in the Conker shoe factory next door to her home in Totnes had poisoned the air and made her sick. She suffered nerve damage, she said, and a loss of concentration that caused her to abandon the literary novel she was working on, “Cool Wind From the Future,” and instead crank out a potboiler called “Bleedout.”

“Fumes Made Me Go Lowbrow, Says Writer” was the headline in The Times of London, and Ms. Brady took exception, claiming that the voice in the new book was exactly the same as the one she had used in her highbrow Whitbread winner. You have to wonder, though, how many literary novels have flap copy like this, from “Bleedout”: “Even after Hugh Freyl lost his sight he was invincible. But late one night, in the library of the elite law firm that bears his name, he was beaten to death.”

You also have to conclude that Conker or its lawyers don’t know much about the publishing business — that is, if they really believed that Ms. Brady had suffered from turning to thrillerdom. Thrillers by and large do much better than literary novels, and though the title “Bleedout” turns out to refer, disappointingly, to kosher butchery rather than human carnage, it has done pretty well, selling some 50,000 copies in Britain alone since it came out in 2005. An author seeking damages would do better, one would have thought, by claiming to have become so addled that she had decided to forsake a certain payday for the vain hope of literary success. In that case the Times headline might read: “Fumes Float Author’s Fantasy.”

But what’s behind the Brady controversy, of course, is the assumption that genre fiction — mysteries, thrillers, romances, horror stories — is a form of literary slumming. These kinds of books are easier to read, we tend to think, and so they must be easier to write, and to the degree that they’re entertaining, they can’t possibly be “serious.”

The distinction between highbrow and lowbrow — between genre writing and literary writing — is actually fairly recent. Dickens, as we’re always being reminded, wrote mysteries and horror stories, only no one thought to call them that. Jane Austen wrote chick lit. A whiff of shamefulness probably began attaching itself to certain kinds of fiction — and to mysteries and thrillers especially — at the end of the 19th century, with the rise of the “penny dreadful,” or cheaply printed serial. The market and public appetite for this stuff became even larger in the early years of the 20th century with the tremendous growth of pulp magazines, which specialized in the genres and eventually even added a new one: science fiction.

Pulp writing, amply on display in “The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps,” a new 1,000-page anthology edited by Otto Penzler, was often crude and formulaic, but it could also be thrillingly racy, taking on themes that politer fiction ignored, and eventually a few of the pulp writers — Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, for example — got promoted into the mainstream. The puzzling thing is that such promotions don’t happen more often. Both Ian Rankin, the British mystery writer, and Stephen King, the horror-meister, have complained about a double standard — a conspiracy, in effect — among critics and reviewers that tends to ghettoize genre writing and prevent its practitioners from being taken seriously.

But if there is a conspiracy it’s one that authors — highbrow authors, anyway — are sometimes complicit in, frequently adopting pseudonyms when they want to dabble in, say, crime writing. The most curious case recently is that of John Banville, the Booker Prize winner who has published two highly regarded mysteries under the name Benjamin Black but hasn’t taken any pains to keep his true identity a secret. For a Web site, he has even interviewed his alter ego. Perhaps not so surprising is that what makes the two Black novels, “Christine Falls” and “The Silver Swan,” so good — their atmospheric descriptive writing — is precisely Mr. Banville’s great strength, while Benjamin Black, whose third novel is currently being serialized in The New York Times Magazine, is still learning some of the ropes when it comes to plot and suspense.

The Black novels belong, in fact, to that interesting category of novels that are often said to “transcend” or “almost transcend” their genre. This compliment, however backhanded, used to be awarded all the time to John le CarrĂ©’s cold war thrillers. Mr. King hears it a lot now, especially from reviewers who want to imagine that he is gradually abandoning his horror roots. To transcend its genre, a book has to more nearly resemble a mainstream novel — it has to be less generic, in a word. A good example is the mysteries of P. D. James, justly praised for a characterization so rich and detailed that for long stretches you can forget you’re reading a crime story in the first place.

But is that always what we want — to forget why we’re reading what we’re reading? In a review a couple of years ago of a Robert Littell thriller, John Updike wrote about genre writers — Mr. le CarrĂ© and Ms. James included — who sometimes give signs of wanting to be “real” novelists and seem restive about living up to their implicit contract with the reader, which is to deliver on the promise that a particular genre entails — whether it’s a murder solved, a cold war plot thwarted, a horror unmasked, a love requited.

What we look for in genre writing, Mr. Updike suggested, is exactly what the critics sometimes complain about; the predictableness of a formula successfully executed. We know exactly what we’re going to get, and that’s a seductive part of the appeal. It’s why we can read genre books so quickly and in such quantity, and happily come back for more of the same by the very same author. Such books are reassuring in a way that some other novels are not.

Does that make them lesser, or just different? Probably both on occasion. But it doesn’t necessarily make them easier or less worthwhile to write. Henry James’s story “The Next Time” is a tragicomedy about Ralph Limbert, an author who desperately wants to be popular and write potboilers but can’t for the life of life of him manage, as the narrator says, to turn a silk purse into a sow’s ear. Like Ms. Brady, he even moves to the country, but without the benefit of fumes, he is doomed to being highbrow. The story is partly autobiographical, and not without a twinge of both snobbery and self-pity — James, too, wanted to be more popular than he was — but is also informed by a sense that for most writers there is no such thing as slumming. You write, by his lights, what you have a gift for writing; anything else will be revealed as fakery.

James talked a lot about “trash,” and whether he knew the difference between good trash and bad is doubtful. Yet he understood all about genre writing. “The Turn of the Screw,” one of the best things he ever wrote, is an unabashed ghost story.

Monday, March 3, 2008

A Defense of Art, Part 1

Yesterday, I went to see The Seagull by Chekov with my school. The general impression I got from that play was that art ruins your life, seeing as all the artists are miserable except for one really shallow person (who is also rather miserable, if you analyze her) and one ends up committing suicide.

After the play, we got to speak to the director and a bunch of the actors (including Alan Cumming - yay Scottish accent). I asked them about the message of the play and if there is a way to defend art based on that. The director said that art only ruins your life if you can't exist in art. Someone who is not willing to see art through for the sake of art, but more for the sake of themselves, will not make it. Only one whose true calling is art will survive.

I want to disagree. I want to disagree with the play as a whole, actually. Throughout the entire performance, we are never presented with a character who attempts it but is not good at art. I would have liked to have seen a talentless artist so I could see what that person's outcome would be. For me, the factor is not "can you exist without art in your life?" but rather "how much weight do you put on success?" If someone's true calling is not art but they decide to pursue some artistic endeavors anyway (such as acting, writing, etc.), that person can totally not let art get in the way of his happiness if his happiness is not dependent on the success of his art. In that respect, it's the exact opposite of what the director explained. Someone who puts the weight of his entire life and happiness on his art will never be satisfied. Then again, I suppose it depends why that person is creating art in the first place. If it is to please others, or worse, to please himself, he may never be satisfied, but if it is just to sell or just to create without concentrating so much on the end result, as in, doing it more for fun, then why should that ruin someone's life? Even if the person wants it to come out good, but creates art more to fulfill a desire of immersing himself in the art rather than anything else, I believe that person can still be perfectly happy.

Constantine's suicide is a result not of art, but of something much deeper. It is a reaction to his relationships and of the desire for acceptance from those who are distracted by other things. True, it is tied into art in that everyone else in the play is so preoccupied with one art form or another that they fail to see Constantine for who he is as a person and abandon him, but on the other hand, if that were not the case and Constantine were merely frustrated with his art, I don't believe he would have killed himself.

Basically, I'm frustrated with the play, with the message of the play, with the message of the director, and I am frustrated that I am coming down with a cold. Hmph.

Sleeping Meme

As I have been tagged (by Scraps) for this meme, I decided I might as well fill it out. After all, who doesn't love talking about oneself??? Btw, WHO RECOGNIZES THIS PICTURE??? Yay childhood!

1. How much sleep do you get on an average night?

Somewhere between 6 and 8, though usually closer to 6.
2. Is that enough sleep for you?
No. Nothing is ever enough sleep for me.
3. At what time do you normally go to sleep and wake up?
I usually go to sleep around 2 every night, give or take a half an hour. I wake up always around five, five thirtyish, go back to sleep, and my alarm wakes me again at 8. Er, I get out of bed sometime after that.
4. Do you usually fall asleep right away or have trouble?
It depends how exhausted I am. I tend to sleep better in school than at home (weird, no?) so at school, I fall asleep almost right away (especially if I'm reading). At home, I toss and turn a bit more and wake up more frequently during the night.
5. What size bed do you have?
6. How many pillows do you use?
Two, and at home I also use a stuffed yellow dog as a sort of third pillow.
7. In what position do you sleep?
All different positions (I toss and turn a lot before I fall asleep, though I generally don't move around once I'm sleeping. I know this because I've woken up after eight hours with my hand still holding open a book). My favorite is all curled up in a fetal position, though.
8. Do you need it to be quiet or dark to sleep?
No way. If I'm tired enough, I can fall asleep anywhere. It actually unsettles me when it's TOO quiet and TOO dark, so I'm less likely to fall asleep in those conditions. I like low background noise and soft darkness (as in, a little bit of light but not glaring light). My favorite conditions for falling asleep, oddly enough, are in the early morning when natural light is coming in through the window shades, giving the room a cool, blue look. I also like it when it actually IS a bit cool. I fall asleep better in the cold than in the heat.
9. Do you use earplugs or an eye mask?
Never. Ew.
10. Have you ever used a sleeping aid long-term?
11. Do you use headgear, a night retainer, or a biteplate?
Erm. I own a retainer.
12. What do you normally wear to bed?
T-shirt and light pants (or shorts, in the summer). Unless the heat is broken in my dorm room and it's utterly freezing, in which case I wear a t-shirt, sweatshirt, and sweatpants.
13. Do you frequently fall asleep in your clothing?
No, never, unless it's the middle of shabbat afternoon and I'm reading and fall asleep by accident. Otherwise, I DETEST sleeping in my clothing. Clothing is for being awake, pajamas are for sleeping. Sleeping gear may NEVER be worn while awake and doing things. Ew.
14. Do you prefer a heavy or light blanket?
Depends on how cold/hot it is. I prefer heavy to light, I think, because I like cuddling up under my blanket and it's easier to do that if it's thicker.
15. Do you prefer warm or cool PJs?
16. Do you wear socks to bed?
Never, never, never. Your feet need to BREATHE, people! I never wear anything to bed that will make me wake up sweaty. EW.
17. What is your bedtime routine?
Check my email, take out contacts, get in pajamas, get a drink of water, get in bed, read until I fall asleep. Sometimes, if I'm too tired to read, I'll just take a book and have it to fall asleep with. Like, instead of a teddy bear. I don't know why, but especially when I can't fall asleep, that seems to help. It helps even MORE if I actually OPEN the book and hold it open while falling asleep, even if I don't read one word. I'm weird, sometimes.
18. Do you listen to music when you’re falling asleep?
I went through a phase in high school and Israel when I did that, but I stopped and I don't think I'd go back to it. I like to actually listen to the songs too much, plus having headphones in my ears while falling asleep isn't very pleasant.
19. Have you sucked your thumb in recent years?
Not in recent years, no. But as a kid - BIG TIME. I was a HUGE thumb sucker until about kindergarten, or even first grade.
20. Do you still sleep with your childhood blankie/teddy?
YES. But it's not a blankie OR a teddy. It's a yellow dog named Yellow Doggie. I got my naming skills from Adam and Chava so shh. Adam saw a dog, he named it Dog. I saw a yellow dog, I named it Yellow Doggie. SAME THING.
21. Do you snore?
Ugh, no. I suppose if I'm sick I might breathe heavily, but that's it.
22. Do you sleeptalk or sleepwalk?
I've been told I sleep talk sometimes, but not really. I definitely don't sleep walk. Sometimes I feel myself laughing at my dreams, though. I dunno what you'd call that - a sleep laugh? I'm usually about to wake up when that happens, though.
23. Do you wake up to use the bathroom often?
Not every night, but pretty often. Usually once a night.
24. What things inhabit your bed aside from a blanket and pillow?
Me, yellow doggie (when I'm at home, Doggie doesn't come to school because I don't want to have to wash him from Dorm Germs. He's too fragile), sometimes a book.
25. What kind of alarm clock do you use?
At home I have a clock radio, but in school I use an iHome.
26. Do you ever wake up before your alarm?
Almost always, unless I'm in a deep, well-rested sleep. I usually wake up about five or ten minutes before my alarm clock.
27. Do you frequently take naps?
Never. I hate naps. I hate sleeping during the day. It's disorienting and then I'd have to wash up ALL over again because I need to wash my face and brush my teeth every time I wake up, even from a nap. Also, I don't like sleeping in my contacts. Can you tell I'm rather anal about this sleeping stuff?
28. Have you ever slept ‘under the stars’?
YES! It's the best experience EVER. At a certain point at camp, I got sick of sleeping in the claustrophobic tents and spent every camp out sleeping outside. I love it. Well, unless it's raining.
29. Can you fall asleep on a bus, train, or airplane?
Yes, but I HATE it. EWWWWWW.
30. Have you ever fallen asleep and missed your stop?
And last, but not least,
31. Over the course of a lifetime, the average person swallows six spiders in his/her sleep. How many do you think you're up to?
NONE. I refuse to acknowledge that I have been swallowing spiders in my sleep. YUCK, EW, GROSS!

I tag anyone who hasn't been tagged yet.