Sunday, April 29, 2012

words are magic

Sometimes I get discouraged about the lack of "REAL WORLD" skills my literature studies have provided me with.  Especially when "SCIENCE" provides lists like this one (featured in Newsweek):

The 13 Most Useless College Majors (As Determined By Science):
1.  Fine Arts
2.  Drama and Theatre Arts
3.  Film, Video, and Photographic Arts
4.  Commercial Art and Graphic Design
5.  Architecture
6.  Philosophy and Religious Studies
7.  English Literature and Language
8.  Journalism
9.  Anthropology and Archeology
10.  Hospitality Management
11.  Music
12.  History
13.  Political Science and Government

Thank you, Science.  My life is more or less composed entirely of #1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, & 11.

Now I have a word about these "useless studies."  Useless implies these Science-people are making some sort of value judgement of what counts as "use" or "utility." There is a crucial assumption that said-Science-people have overlooked: how they're defining "use."  There are more kinds of utility than monetary value.  Yes, maybe the above majors are useless if you're trying to make a million before you turn 30.  They may be useless if you're trying to land yourself in a career right upon graduation.  They may also be useless if you're trying to build missiles or stop computer hackers or fly an airplane.  But since when are these things the things we live for?  They are merely functions to staying alive...

Maybe my degrees don't do much in the way of curing cancer or sequencing the human genome.

Ahem.  Or maybe they do:

I heard a story recently of a famous opera singer who sang at a special banquet.  When an older woman commented on his beautiful voice afterwards, he remarked that he'd always wished he'd become a heart surgeon, and that his entire life, he'd felt badly for not doing something that more actively healed people.  The woman told him that there is more than one way to be a heart surgeon, that his music and his voice had healed her heart that night.

Similarly, in a storytelling contest in Chicago, Peter Sagal (of NPR's "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me!") told about his friend Morgan who met Mother Teresa in New York.  Morgan told Mother T that she wanted to go with her to Calcutta because Mother T's work was "important."  When Mother Teresa asked what Morgan's work was, she said, "What I do isn’t important. I work in a theater and I help put on plays. What use is that?”  Mother Teresa replied, “There are so many different kinds of famine in this world.  In my country, there is a famine of the body. In this country, there is a famine of the spirit. Stay here and feed your people.”

So I'm not using engineering to build wells in Africa to save a thirsty nation. Nor do I know how to cut out tumors to save lives.  But there are more kinds of "life" than the physical mortal one.  And there are more ways to save a life than through medicine.  Art is a medicine of its own, and its own kind of nation-saving well.  Maybe I'm mapping the human genome in a different way than "Science" understands: through story and photography and reading people as well as reading books.

And what would this world be music, art, literature?  These are the things that make our life lovely.  If we stripped down life to only that which serves these Science-people's definition of "use," you know what we'd have?  Concrete block buildings and art that only serves political purposes--both of which would be utterly use-full: not a single aesthetic superfluity.  But there is more to life than practical utility.  I'm not living in survival mode, and neither are you.  Add thoughts to the world, not products.  Help people come to better thoughts within themselves.  I want beautiful film, I want beautiful music, I want beautiful words, and I want to revel in all of them and in the cosmic experiences they bring me to.  

So revel a little with me:

Saturday, April 28, 2012

my future:

The way my life is going, I'm fixing to be the crazy aunt who goes on safaris.

I realized this whilst thinking about my future nieces and nephews and wondering if I will forever be relegated to singledom and consequently to the often exotic travels associated with such a station.  As if the heavens heard my query, *poof*, the next morning at our final grad instructor meeting, I was awarded "most likely to get lost in an obscure foreign country."  

I try not to get too wrapped up in figuring out if this is a compliment (like they think I'm cool and will travel a lot) or a diss (like I'm the kind of person who might someday wake up in an obscure foreign country and have no idea how i got there or how to get myself out).  Instead I just make a list of the things I'll bring on said safari:

one hot air balloon
classy binoculars
tortoise shell glasses, because i'll be old by then and probably macularly degenerative 
ernest hemingway (the books and the man.  but most especially that mustache (swoon))
and a lifetime supply of peanut M&Ms.  =happy all my life.

Monday, April 23, 2012


After the utter emotional, scholastic, and pedagogical pummeling we call "FINALS WEEK," I absented myself to Texas for a weekend of tacos, rivers, music, and other miscellany of adventure.  You know those weekends that are like secret getaways?  Where you fly out at sunrise and don't use your phone or check your email or grade a single paper for five days?  That's what this weekend was.  (Sigh.)  Such a good five days.

And of course it doesn't hurt matters that Austin's a pretty kickin' city.

1.  Trailer food:  Pitas, tacos, burgers, Thai, well as Gourdough's donuts (I think the name "Gourdough's" is what happens when you put 'gorge', 'gourmand', 'gordo', and 'doughboy' in a blender.)  My "Miss Shortcake" donut was more or less as big as my face, and had fresh strawberries and thick frosting that was velvety like powdered sugar...  And all this on picnic benches in warm Texas night air with twinkly lights?  Cannot imagine a better "Welcome to Austin, Eat your Heart Out" beginning.

2.  Speaking of eating, we had tacos every other meal.  Tacos are the one blessed thing I love more than my accordion, if you can fathom such a love existing.  The best ones were from a hole in the wall called Taco Mex.  No seriously, it's literally a hole in the wall: there's a 2'x2' window in the middle of a red wall and that's it.)

3.  The accordion fest (formally known as Squeezebox Mania), at a little Mexican restaurant.  If that's not dreamy enough, imagine finding stone steps behind the concert patio down to a creek below, and a swing, and a turtle in the water, and the light falling through the trees like lace and the breeze and the birdsongs...booyah perfect evening.

4.  Thrift Store Road (formally known as Congress).  Spent a good while whiling away the good afternoon in a store called "Uncommon Things" and I loved every second of it.
5.  An afternoon on the river-lake (that made me have all kinds of crazy ambitions like floating the Mississippi on a raft, Huck Finn style...)

6.  The huge tree with tired droopy limbs by the Capitol building

7.  San Antonio River Walk.  Take the remains of 'gorge', 'gourmand', 'gordo', and 'doughboy' out of the blender and now put in a Disneyland ride + midnight dinners at sidewalk cafes in Rome + Texas BBQ and you'll have the San Antonio River Walk.  Right through the city there's a narrow canal, and right on its banks are little restaurants and tables and musicians and romance.

8.  The three hour nap I took under some desks on U.T.'s campus...tired after finals week?  Yes I was.  And there couldn't have been a better way to cheer in summer than AustinAustinAustin.

(I do not have instagram (anybody wanna buy me an iPhone?), but Nate was nice enough to humor me all weekend and let me A) use his, and B) take pictures of everything without rolling his eyes one time.)

Monday, April 16, 2012

bravery points

Today I met someone I've been meaning to meet for all year.  He's my campus person--you know, the person that you see everywhere?  No matter if I'm on the fifth floor or the second floor of the library, or in the Wilk eating lunch, or walking past the JFSB, he's there too.  It's a little creepy just how "everywhere" this kid is.  (Granted, then that means it's creepy how I'm everywhere too, so...)

And I'm not exactly sure why I've noticed him in particular, out of all the people I'm sure I see with similar frequency.  He's got good style.  And kinda walks like he's in charge of the world but doesn't really care too much.  And he's always talking to people.  And his hair kinda does that swoosh thing.  I know, creepy details.  But I'm telling you.  I see this person everyday.  Which is more than I see my roommates sometimes.

So I finally went up to him (because I don't think I'll have another chance), and i said, "Hi.  I don't know you, but I see you everywhere, and I always tell myself I should meet you so I can at least say hi.  I'm Carolyn."  His name is Craig.  He's graduating.  I'm graduating.

I bet we could have been friends.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

accordion: a love story

(THIS is the answer to the game a couple of days ago.  sam you are the winner!)

I've been looking for an accordion for something like six months now.  I call DI weekly to ask if they have one in, bychance.  The weeks I don't call, I go there myself, comb the shelves.  No accordion.  Last week I kept feeling the urge to go check DI, but I restrained myself and studied instead.  Imagine my crestfallen face when, upon calling on Saturday, I learned that they had, in fact, had one all week and just sold it.  (Whimper.)

Then Tuesday happened.   I had just taken my last class ever of my entire college career ever in all my life ever.  Brain maxxxxed out from too much thesis-ing and so proud of myself for actually finishing the Thing and sending to in for revisions that I, of course, retreated for the sweet solace of DI.  I just had a really good feeling about it this time.

I did a brief walk-through when I first got there, of their collectible shelves.  Nothing.  Alas.

Back to the bookshelves I went, and found "Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't be Wrong," a book that's been on my list for quite some many moons now.  Check!  (Someday I'll write an essay about the uncanny serendipity that attends every of my excursions to DI...the universe somehow always reaches through whatever vortexes and fractals and hyperspaces separate me from Universe and grants me the wish of my heart!  Seriously.  All I have to do is think of a book I want, and it materializes on the shelf before me within seconds.  The universe is a little choosy though--not every book I want comes.  But I have a feeling the one I most need at that moment are the ones that always do appear.  Magical.  If any of you would like to see this gift in action, I'd be more than happy to accompany you on a book-hunt.)

Now, back to my Quest.  On my way to the cash registers, I walked through the clothesracks and found a lovely ruffly sheer lightlightlight blue blouse that has Paris written all over it (not literally).  Perfect.  The DI universe is smiling beneficently.  

I check out, and on my way out.......I happen to see it.  A big black box.  I'd asked the DI guys at the cash register if they knew if they had an accordion anywhere.  They all said no.  But then what was this big box?  I approach.  It says, "Accorgan" on the top of it.  Thanks to my MA degree, I can do things like match root-words.  Like accordion and accorgan---five letters the same.  


Is this possible?!

Sure enough, nestled like a pearl in a bed of red velvet, an accordion. In perfect condition.  

It is enough to say that I feel like this every second of the day:

Going to school on Wednesday/Thursday/Friday was the hardest thing I have quite possibly ever done, knowing this baby was at home.  You know all those cute mommy bloggers who are like, "Oh I just had a baby, sorry I haven't blogged lately!  I haven't been out in days because all I want to do is be at home cuddling with her!"  I mean not to make any less of babies or anything, but that is more or less or exactly how I feel.  How can I be at school when I could be at home holding my accordion?!  And yet despite this separation-anxiety I feel, all the last three days have had this lovely rose-colored glow, knowing things like accordions and French chansons and Beirut exist.  I've practically danced my way through these days.  Most days of my life, I feel like the luckiest girl in the world.

Last night I played for three hours straight.  When in my life have I ever practiced anything for three hours straight?!

So if any of ya'll need a little romantic mood music, or a balcony serenade, or someone to busk with, I'm your girl.  My repertoire is currently an amalgamation/conglomeration (IS there a difference?) of scraps of songs I love ...  Any recommendations of songs I should learn?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

very small pink blossoms

Today I have seen the most beautiful things--
a boy reading atop a hill of white tiny blossoms,
two girls umbrellaed under a tree burst out with new green leaves,
the grass patterns like lace of the sun through the trees.

On the walk to class on this my last day, the air was pink-blossom-perfumed
and the breeze was cool and it swirled around me.
And the warmth on the breeze and its sweetness...

I was overcome by the patient delicate beauty of it all, so I sat beneath a tree,
read my book about French culture,
on a hill haloed with this lacy blossom-air.

And when I walked home this afternoon, the breeze had become a gust,
and I walked through a corridor of milk-white trees,
and the gust coaxed the blossompetals off their buds
and through the shaded, covered, secret corridor air.

No picture could say what I felt,
surrounded by tiny blossoms milk white like tiny fairies,
all whispering, "Spring!"

a game (!!!)

who can guess what happened to me today?

3 hints....

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

for the love of literature

You know those days when you get the mean reds?

-The mean reds, you mean like the blues? 

No. The blues are because you're getting fat and maybe it's been raining too long, you're just sad that's all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you're afraid and you don't know what you're afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?


Well, when I get it the only thing that does any good is to jump in a cab and go to Tiffany's. Calms me down right away. The quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there. If I could find a real-life place that'd make me feel like Tiffany's, then I'd buy some furniture and give the cat a name!

Today was a bad case of the mean reds. One of those hide-under-the-covers mornings, one of those day-after-the-day-which-collapsed-in-on-itself days.  So guess what I did.  I got up and taught a bunch of kids how to make a website.  Then I went to my office, where Sam was also mean-red-ing it.  As was Becca.  Man.  What a day.  So we watched videos about charming pastry shops and looked at Mondrian-esque cakes, and threw paperclips at our colleague Drew.  (All normal mean-red-day activities.)  Then I taught more kids about websites.  Then I said, "Peace, yo, I'm done" and went home and ate the hugest salad and bowl of spaghetti (homemade, thank goodness) you've ever seen.  I also ate a few cookies.  (Listen, in terms of curing the mean reds, I have no pastry shop nearby and no Tiffany's either, so spaghetti was the chosen alternative.  Don't judge.)

Then I went to the local library to "write my thesis."  I instead took quizzes over stress levels and heart rates, and subsequently learned (by experience) that taking quizzes over stress levels only raises heartrates.  Thank you WebMD for always diagnosing me as "high risk" for ebola/cardiac arrest/dengue/meningitis/every-other-disease-I-use-you-to-diagnose.

And then tonight happened, in which I went to the English Department Awards Banquet.  Oh boy.  Nothing like a tsunami of nostalgia to cure the mean reds and leave your heart bubbling over with joy.  (Although a word of caution: nostalgia is a drippy kind of joy. It tends to effulge and ooze and otherwise occasionally leave you crying about days long gone. Kinda like how you feel when you finish watching all the Lord of the Rings movies.)
A word on this Awards Banquet: it happens every year--everyone looks all fancy, we have fancy meal (yes I want more rolls and pats of butter please!), then there’s an impossibly inspirational address given by one of our professors.  The whole thing disgusts me it’s so beautiful.  And the sun is setting in the windows behind the harp player, and I’m sitting at a table with my MA friends, and around me are Phil and Delys who were the professors I went to London with; Rick whose mind and goodness and words I admire so deeply--Rick who first taught me to love Shakespeare, who first showed me the magic of those plays; Brett and Brian who have coached me through this whole graduate instructor “thing,” and oh so many others. And they’re all smiling on and giving me encouraging nods.  In short, it’s an evening to be surrounded by people you’ve grown to love and admire and depend on, and it’s a sad whisper that “this too shall pass” and you’ll soon be SHOVED out of the BYU-tiful nest into the dark and lonely world!  
That Banquet is the saddest, most beautiful night of the year.  It makes me want to be forever a student of literature, to learn to write and think like those professors who give such beautiful addresses, talking about how literature expands your mind, quoting Thoreau and Shakespeare and Wordsworth.  It makes me realize, for that one brief moment, that my study of literature has never been about finding a career or about making myself "marketable."  It has only been about love.  
It is about leaving an evening class in the deep blue sky of sunset with the lights golden all over campus, and walking home with the remnants of a discussion of Shakespeare, or Donne, or Hemingway still lingering in my thoughts.  It is about organizing reading groups, book clubs, culture nights, to read C.S. Lewis together and talk about it in the living room.  The “skill set” was never why I got into this racket (although for those of you who are currently English majors struggling to justify your studies, hear this: the skills I have developed as an English major have been surprisingly marketable! So don't despair. Keep reading, keep writing.).  I didn't get into The Study of Literature for any of those reasons. It was only for the joy of books upon books, of pages undiscovered and unexplored in library shelves I run my fingers across as I look for “PR 2839 .A2 P58x 2010.  It was only for the exuberance of writing a perfect conclusion, of having my mind BLOWN in British Lit 201, or Modernity, or Shakespeare and Film.  I study English for the dream I have of someday knowing all great stories ever told, and all great words ever written.
And this is why the Awards Banquet is the saddest, most beautiful night of the year: because it dredges up from my heart all the reasons I love being a student, all the reasons I love BYU, and worst of all, all the reasons I decided to study literature in the first place.  Graduating would be so much easier if they forced you to end in mid-March, when it’s cold outside and you’re in the middle of plucking your head bald for all the term papers you’re writing/grading.  But nooooo, they wait until the trees have blossomed, until the warm weather returns, bringing with it all the fondness of your years here.  And suddenly you remember all the beautiful reasons you are, in fact, MADLY IN LOVE WITH WHAT YOU'RE STUDYING.  Which tangentially is also the reason why graduating suddenly seems absolutely horrible.

Inevitably, as I walk from the Hinckley Center to the library to “work on my thesis,” the wind is blowing warm and bright, like the first nights in Heritage and the outdoor freshman dances, like the nightgames the summer of ‘08, like every memory with Brooke, like walking out of the HFAC after seeing some lovely play or performance that left me bubbling over with satisfaction, like the day Michael and I escaped studying to fly kites, like the walk home after evening classes, profoundly grateful for this thing we call “learning,” for professors with brilliant minds who believe in the beauty of art more than they believe in "marketability." Like every evening that that walk home has left me humming and dreaming and smiling.  And again and again, I am brought to the end of this book, or at least this chapter, in "the life of Carolyn." But they are pages I want to reread again and again.  They are pages I tear out and write all over and fold up and shove in my pocket. These pages are lovely pages to me.

Monday, April 2, 2012

{review}: move slow and steady, feel like a waterfall

listen here: Of Monsters and Men's new album "My Head is An Animal" is about to change your spring.
the group is from Iceland (big surprise--music this beautiful and textured can only come from a place similarly so).

this is the kind of music that all music hopes to be: haunting, calming, and bursting with joy.
the melodies of the album braid together, carve deep, reverberate.
like echoes in the mountains.
or a cableknit sweater in the wet-chilly forest air.

"Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Ragnar Þórhallsson's lead vocals, appropriate to the land of fire and ice, intertwine beautifully before erupting into rousing sing-along choruses.  Each song demonstrates wide-eyed, openhearted exuberance. It's an album that rings with unbridled joy, just in time for spring."  
(Kevin Cole of KEXP)

the album's available April 3.
until then listen here.

Sunday, April 1, 2012


it's amazing how even weeks, months, after leaving a place you loved/lived in, your mind can still map out its streets, its shops.
as if you're walking them again.
i take mental walks often,
down past kensington gardens towards the shops in high street kensington, the construction on my left.
funny i'd remember that construction.
or rather, funny that construction would be what i remember.
the walk from the spanish steps at night, past prada and louis vuitton, the bus stops.
the thousands of people like a flesh ocean under the subway tracks in paris, bastille day.  the police pushing and saying, "no madame."

i take these walks often.
most commonly in the shower, as it so happens.