Friday, November 30, 2007

Pop Woolf: Art Education Campaign

Newsweek has now twice run an ad for Arts Education featuring Virginia Woolf. The headline is "Why some people think Virginia Woolf is the state's official animal."

And the copy goes on to explain the importance of funding arts education for kids.

You can see (and download) the ad here.

It's one of a whole series of punning ads--Whitman & chocolate, Duke Ellington & royalty, & my second favorite, the Spanish ad punning on Goya and canned beans.

The Woolf ad is on my offfice door now.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Seeing as I go to about one play a year, I feel it was quite clever of me to plan to go to a non-striking show tonight.

"Cymbeline": Shakespeare's very, very odd and beautiful late play. With Martha Plimpton as Imogen and that beautiful haunting dirge that haunts Mrs. Dalloway--
Fear no more the heat o' the sun,
Nor the furious winter's rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta'en thy wages;
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.

One hour till curtain...stay tuned...

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


  1. Written about, but unread
  2. Thought about buying, but should probably read Drown first (since it’s on my shelf).
  3. Read but not written about
    DANCING TO “ALMENDRA.” By Mayra Montero
  4. Watched my mom buy & discussed it with her, but still unread:
    EXIT GHOST. By Philip Roth.
  5. Read and written about
    FALLING MAN. By Don DeLillo.
  6. Reading
    THE INDIAN CLERK. By David Leavitt.
  7. Read, written about, reviewed
    THROW LIKE A GIRL: Stories. By Jean Thompson.
  8. Purchased in London
    AGENT ZIGZAG: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal. By Ben Macintyre.
  9. Have no plans at all to read
    CIRCLING MY MOTHER. By Mary Gordon.
  10. or
  11. Watched my husband read
    HOW DOCTORS THINK. By Jerome Groopman.
  12. Will happily discuss with you
  13. Read, written about, reviewed, disliked
    LEONARD WOOLF: A Biography. By Victoria Glendinning.
  14. Still looking at the review copy from BookExpo of
    TWO LIVES: Gertrude and Alice. By Janet Malcolm.
  15. Thinking about spending that Three Lives gift certificate in my wallet on
    THE GATHERING. By Anne Enright.
  16. or
    MATRIMONY. By Joshua Henkin.
  17. or maybe even
    THEN WE CAME TO THE END. By Joshua Ferris.
  18. but probably will defy logic and actually purchase

That, in brief, is my brief version of the list.

Monday, November 26, 2007

George Orwell on Graham Greene

No real time to post or think, but time enough to share this little nugget, from Orwell's "The Sanctified Sinner," an essay on Graham Greene: “He [Greene] appears to share the idea, which has been floating around ever since Baudelaire, that there is something rather distingue in being damned; Hell is a sort of high class night club, entry to which is reserved for Catholics only.”

Friday, November 16, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

In my head, there are seven or eight posts--each the work of a moment.

In my life, there is an empty fridge, a visiting relative en route, and a couple beloved daughters with upcoming "vacations" from preschool and daycare.

It's time to face life and stop living in my head.

I'll look forward to "seeing" you all in a post-Thanksgiving triptophan haze.

Enjoy the holiday.

Friday, November 09, 2007

One Art

The art of losing isn't hard to master...

Elizabeth Bishop's great poem has been much in my mind these days. I haven't lost any "you," the devastating loss that ends the poem with a bang, but, boy, have I lost things.

And I am familiar with and tired of that feeling of panic when one does--the feeling that ALL is lost--not just the keys, but everything. I lost my keys yesterday. I was too tired to fully enter the vertiginous sense grief, but I still went through a cascading range of emotions. Losing a small thing makes me feel that I've lost control of the world and of my mind both. I doubt the many little tricks that keep the day perking along smoothly and, in doubting them, I see how much of my day depends on those little tricks (swipe your MetroCard and turn right down the stairs; walk up 58th if you're getting a latte, 60th if you're saving your money; always take your keys with you to the bathroom; remember to grab your keys on the way out). All these little habits give me the mental space to plan my class (or worry about it), to go over my list of the things I need to do, to listen to a song and release myself from those lists.

Babies struggle to learn about "object permanence." The "fort-da" game or peek-a-boo teaches them the big but ultimately gentle lesson that things that go away often return. But when we adults lose something, it reminds us of the dark side of that game: sometimes things don't return; sometimes they are lost. And, as Bishop's catalogue forces us to confront, sometimes it's not just keys that we lose.

I came across Woolf's version of this in Mrs. Dalloway the other day, lovely because it inverts the usual proportions: Clarissa's unhappiness, arising out of imperfect relationships, is as bad as the feeling of losing a thing. Or rather, her inability to remember why she feels unhappy is like being unable to find a pearl in the grass. Odd, dramatic, certainly contributing to Clarissa's tinselly self, but also wonderfully right:
But--but--why did she suddenly feel, for no reason that she could discover, desperately unhappy? As a person who has dropped some grain of pearl or diamond into the grass and parts the tall blades very carefully, this way and that, and searches here and there vainly, and at last spies it there at the roots, so she went through one thing and another.
I gave a big lecture yesterday--ill-attended, but stressful nonetheless. I left my keys in the bathroom just before--though, thank goodness, I only noticed them missing afterwards. Instead of being able to reflect on my performance, I had to trek to my husband's office, borrow his keys, and walk home, tired, wrung out, and a bit ashamed. Of course this is precisely when one does lose things. And it's precisely when one has the least elasticity to absorb the loss.

Someone turned the keys in to security. I picked them up this morning from the supervisor, running in late with oil on his hands--he had a flat tire on the way to work. So it goes. It's November. It's a wonder the world turns at all.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Katherine Lanpher’s Leap Days

I love memoirs. I love reading my friends’ books. I love meeting authors. When I met Katherine Lanpher at Lauren’s burlesque show/reading/fete for Girls Write Now, I wanted to befriend her, remembered listening to her on the radio with Al Franken, remembered reading about her fabulous West Village apartment in the Times (you can see it on her webpage, under “articles” [scroll down]) and begged her to send me a copy of her book.

Thanks to her publicist, she obliged.

I gobbled the book. I’ll admit that I hadn’t read it when it came out because our stories were too similar: she moved to the West Village in mid-life on February 29, 2004. (She was 46.) I moved to Jersey City in mid-life just six months earlier. (I was just shy of 37.) In those early days in New York, it was too hard to read about the seemingly footloose life of a single woman my age when I was slogging through the slush with a stroller on the wrong side of the Hudson.

But I’ve read it now and am so glad. It’s a lovely collection of essays, really, more than a memoir, about adventure and possibility and discovering that those things can continue on into one’s 40s, can continue even after one has “decided” that the time for adventure has passed.

That said, the weakest piece for me is the first. There, I think, she writes a very funny account of going through one of those trapeze camps where you overcome your fears by doing circus tricks. This seems like a gimmick to me; a pretty good column from O: the Oprah Magazine or More (where she is an editor). It’s as if someone wanted more justification of the title and asked for an essay that was literally about leaping. I get it, but it’s merely fine, where much else in the memoir is lively and moving and strong.

She writes, for example, about coming to terms with not having children--even though their inability to have a child contributed to her and her husband’s divorce, even though, as she acknowledges, it seems that any upper-middle class American who wants a child just “gets” one somehow.

She writes also, movingly and with great strength about the history of herself as a feminist: the minor indignities and outrages that lead to a deep and abiding commitment.

And, for anyone who moves to New York, she writes terrifically detailed accounts of the delights and minor humiliations of living in the city, and the constant question: are you a New Yorker yet?

Living in Jersey, I’ve opted out of that, still, I was fascinated to read her subway tales. She writes of her wonder at riding the train with a friend who insists on getting in just the right car: the car, it turns out, that will mean he has no walk when he gets off at Christopher Street. She writes, too, of being amazed that anyone can read on the train when the train itself is so amazing. And then, of herself now, reading away, and thinking back. As someone who now reads on the train (or fiddles with my beloved iPhone, listening to my hoarded “free” songs from Starbucks. How I lap up the opportunity to get a free song with my $4 coffee!), I loved the pleasure of seeing my own history of thought about the commute in print.

The thing that the book does not, and cannot, resolve, is the thing that keeps these chapters lively and interesting: it’s a memoir of a woman who loves adventure and homemaking. She became a journalist and married a French theater-guy because of that love of a adventure. But she settled into a lovely cottage in St. Paul with a huge kitchen and dining room out of her love of home. What surprised her--her courage to pick up stakes and move--is also, it seems to this reader, wonderfully in character.

Monday, November 05, 2007

One last bit of Stevie Smith

I first read this novel in 1991: I was single and young, but even then, I loved this little ironic passage on marriage. Now, Smith’s delight in those whose imperfect marriages become an interesting fact, a bit of running commentary, seems even more delicious:
There you are you see, quite simple. If you cannot have your dear husband for a comfort and a delight, for a breadwinner and a cross patch, for a sofa, a chair or a hot-water bottle, one can use him as a Cross to be Borne.
“It reminds me of our craft articles published passim, in all our so-very-much-alike women’s papers: How to make a knitting bag out of a top hat. May also be used for a beret or a tea cosy.

The Daily Show, Sunday edition

Taking my cue from New Yorkers everywhere (even on this, the other side of the Hudson), I try not to be star-struck.

Still, I'll say that when you're spending your Sunday in the toddler room of the Liberty Science Center, gazing at giant millipedes, helping the little ones poor uncooked rice from cup to cup or shoot plastic balls through a giant air cannon, the whole experience takes on unexpected glamour when Jon Stewart is there doing it with his wife and kids, too....

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Stevie Smith and the Jews

Part of that pert and determined voice--and part of what makes Novel on Yellow Paper of continuing interest--is that Stevie Smith’s Pompey still has the power to shock. But when that shock comes in the form of garden variety 30s anti-Semitism, it’s hard to know how to take it.

If you do pick up Novel on Yellow Paper, you’ll find Pompey riding horses with her friend Leonie, “a Jewess, but slim” right in the opening pages. In spite of myself, I find this non sequitur very funny. Less funny but more interesting is her account of finding herself the only goy at a party:
Hurrah to be a goy! A clever goy is cleverer than a clever Jew. And I am a clever goy that knows everything on earth and in heaven. This moment of elation I am telling you about: the only living person in that room, the cleverest person in that room; the cleverest living goy.
Do all goys among Jews get that way? Yes, perhaps. And the feeling you must pipe down and apologize for being so superior and clever.
This nonchalant self-acceptance of her own prejudices is why I call her anti-Semitism “garden variety,” she seems to see her own opinions as utterly common to her context. But Pompey’s self-analysis is anything but ordinary. Even as she feels superior, she pursues that feeling, puts it under a microscope.

Not much more about Jews shows up for the next hundred pages though her thoughts about her German boyfriend Karl keep the topic close to mind. This is, after all, a 1936 novel, so knowing that Hitler is already in power, that the war is just 3 years away, gives her thoughts a special electricity.

She breaks up with Karl, goes to Germany, stays with some Jewish friends who already are keeping “a weather eye out for self-preservation” under Hitler. On the way home, she weeps on the train for fear of what may come and for shame at how her own thoughts might contribute to the general fund of hatred in the world, of mounting cruelty against Jews.

A hundred pages is a long time to wait for a character to redeem herself, and Smith doesn’t let Pompey completely off the hook here. Instead, just a few episodes later, Pompey finds herself thinking about a friend who’s just married a Jewish man, about how, for her, his Jewishness still conveys something meaningful about his personality: “she was married to a man that was—and after all I’ve said about Germany what black treachery and perfidy this is—well I’ll say it, got married to a man that is a Jew.”

I’m loving and admiring this more and more, and partly because it is shocking and partly out of historical interest but also because it really does seem to do something honest and kind of ugly but also really penetrating. What do you think? How far are you willing to go along with a text when it offends you?