April 7, 2013 § Leave a comment
The picture above is from a wonderful online site.
Go look at it. Then talk to me about the time machine you’re building and what I have to do to get a seat. Remove 20 years from my body, let me go back in time…nothing would make me happier. Not fame, wealth, power, God…
Though, really, who knows. The past might be nastier than it looks, even if you researched the wheres and whens to avoid. No iphone with 2,500 pictures of the cats and grandkids. No fine chocolatier in every neighborhood. No instant books.
Friday, the niece-nurse came and we talked for hours (about time travel, among other things) even though I was direly sleepy with a bad cold. She’s cut her hair short and it looks great. She’s a cozy niece. I know she’ll take it as a compliment when I say she’d make a great cat. Yesterday—such a lovely day here in New York City!–we went to Petco and I mooned over the wall of shelter cats in cages. The small tortoiseshell mother with her five-month kittens. The grey and white cat with an eraser-pink nose curled into a perfect circle. The tall cat with brilliant yellow eyes and fluffy, long black hair that spiked up around his neck like a ruff. Only when I give in to the lure of Petco and browse the felines do I understand the kind of man who wants to sleep with every pretty woman passing by.
Then, last night, I dreamt I was looking for the manuscript of Me and You, which was a version very different from the published book, a manuscript oozing with sex and character, messy, unfinished, waiting for me to dive back in. It’s always the case for writers that the books you dream are richer and more alive than anything you’ve written or will write: they represent everything we know that consciousness hasn’t room for or the ability to handle. They’re the children kept in the attic because the parents are too brittle and high-strung for the dark magic of childhood; and you know what years locked in an attic will do to people. It’s like that and also like what years in a cellar do to fine wine or whiskey.
I recently read an article in the New York Times about computer programs that can now grade essays. It’s deeply depressing. The only reason I got A’s in the classes I got A’s in was because I wanted the professor to admire me, to hear my ideas, to read my sentences. I know that’s not the case for many students, but even for the ones who never think about it, I believe it matters. Writers who can’t get published will tell you that writing for nobody isn’t writing at all.
The end of the piece tells you everything you need to know (other than the software specifics; if you’re interested in that, go look it up).
Mark D. Shermis, a professor at the University of Akron in Ohio, supervised the Hewlett Foundation’s contest on automated essay scoring and wrote a paper about the experiment. In his view, the technology — though imperfect — has a place in educational settings.
With increasingly large classes, it is impossible for most teachers to give students meaningful feedback on writing assignments, he said. Plus, he noted, critics of the technology have tended to come from the nation’s best universities, where the level of pedagogy is much better than at most schools.
“Often they come from very prestigious institutions where, in fact, they do a much better job of providing feedback than a machine ever could,” Dr. Shermis said. “There seems to be a lack of appreciation of what is actually going on in the real world.”
Of course I think the problem should be addressed from the other end. But even when it isn’t, I don’t think Dr. Shermis understands the power of being read, even cursorily. As for teaching students how to write more smoothly, thoughtfully, logically, etc, other people quoted in the article said what I would: if machines can do that, they can do all the writing themselves. Then we might as well go back into the trees.
Not that that would be a bad thing. If nothing else works out, being a young ape in a forest with no humans anywhere sounds pretty nice. I know there’d be leopards or panthers or tigers. That would be scary. But no forest should exist without them.
I should move to Costa Rica. I’m thinking about it. Charles doesn’t want to go.
National Poetry Month
When a poem
speaks by itself,
it has a spark
and can be considered
part of a divine
Sometimes the poem weaves
like a basket around
two loaves of yellow bread.
“Break off a piece
of this April with its
raisin nipples,” it says.
“And chew them slowly
under your pillow.
You belong in bed with me.”
On the other hand,
when a poem speaks
in the voice of a celebrity
it is called television
or a movie.
“There is nothing to see,”
says Robert De Niro,
though his poem bleeds
all along the edges
like a puddle
with yellow tape
at the crime scene
“It is an old poem,” he adds.
I was very young
when I made it.” –
April 9, 2010 § Leave a comment
I dreamed last night that I had a mailbox full of replies from publishers. As I sorted it, the haul dwindled to one passionate reply about a book proposal I’d sent out; the editor noted all the things she loved, what small changes she’d make. As I read, I was eager to get back to my desk, plunge into this dense, imaginative work…
Upon waking, I realized that this book did not exist except as a dream. It was about a child with strange powers sent away from the family. There was a dim and narrow hall, an uncle urging haste, dark coats. Was there something about wings? The plot was set, perfected; hidden from me.
Every culture has a theory on the meaning of dreams. Messages, portents, wishes. What if they’re only the subconscious showing off? Look, it’s saying (that clutch of grub-white neurons), I can do all this, create worlds and exquisite emotional textures, without words or paint, research or effort…I’m the genius, the god; I reign in sleep; you will never surpass me.
I never have. What’s conscious is always clumsier. I used to dream more before I accepted that. I dreamed all the time, I was a glutton for dreams, because I thought they would lead me somewhere in the world—even if it was another world—somewhere I could go with my eyes open.
I dreamed of vampires and lions; of lovers never met and houses with endless rooms; of cars, trains, mountains, famous men; of the dead; of flying. I dreamed I was a queen once, standing on a balcony in sunlight. In the distance were immense, naked gods, walking toward me over the ocean.
There are so many wonderful poems about dreams, but this first one is probably new to you.
Hear now a curious dream I dreamed last night
Each word whereof is weighed and sifted truth.
I stood beside Euphrates while it swelled
Like overflowing Jordan in its youth:
It waxed and coloured sensibly to sight;
Till out of myriad pregnant waves there welled
Young crocodiles, a gaunt blunt-featured crew,
Fresh-hatched perhaps and daubed with birthday dew.
The rest if I should tell, I fear my friend
My closest friend would deem the facts untrue;
And therefore it were wisely left untold;
Yet if you will, why, hear it to the end.
Each crocodile was girt with massive gold
And polished stones that with their wearers grew:
But one there was who waxed beyond the rest,
Wore kinglier girdle and a kingly crown,
Whilst crowns and orbs and sceptres starred his breast.
All gleamed compact and green with scale on scale,
But special burnishment adorned his mail
And special terror weighed upon his frown;
His punier brethren quaked before his tail,
Broad as a rafter, potent as a flail.
So he grew lord and master of his kin:
But who shall tell the tale of all their woes?
An execrable appetite arose,
He battened on them, crunched, and sucked them in.
He knew no law, he feared no binding law,
But ground them with inexorable jaw:
The luscious fat distilled upon his chin,
Exuded from his nostrils and his eyes,
While still like hungry death he fed his maw;
Till every minor crocodile being dead
And buried too, himself gorged to the full,
He slept with breath oppressed and unstrung claw.
Oh marvel passing strange which next I saw:
In sleep he dwindled to the common size,
And all the empire faded from his coat.
Then from far off a wingèd vessel came,
Swift as a swallow, subtle as a flame:
I know not what it bore of freight or host,
But white it was as an avenging ghost.
It levelled strong Euphrates in its course;
Supreme yet weightless as an idle mote
It seemed to tame the waters without force
Till not a murmur swelled or billow beat:
Lo, as the purple shadow swept the sands,
The prudent crocodile rose on his feet
And shed appropriate tears and wrung his hands.
What can it mean? you ask. I answer not
For meaning, but myself must echo, What?
And tell it as I saw it on the spot.
I dreamed a thousand new paths. I woke and walked my old one.
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
William Butler Yeats
March 9, 2009 § 4 Comments
I was reading in the New York Times Magazine about abandoned houses in Cleveland. Not a place I’ve ever wanted to live, even in a mansion, but the article was long and I kept seeing the empty houses—single family, unpretentious, a few bedrooms—seeing them in the hundreds and thousands and thinking: They’re empty. Why can’t people live in them before the pipes are ripped from the walls and the boiler stolen? Wouldn’t that be a good thing?
I don’t know where I’m going to live six months from now. Here in New York or in Florida or both, going back and forth like the child of a particularly odd divorce. I’ve talked about this with both husband and boyfriend; we all have decisions to make, not knowing what the future holds; jealousy and possessiveness are still in play but security looms larger.
Philip has often said plaintively, “Why can’t we all just live together?”
“Because Christine hates me,” I would reply. “And Charles hates you.”
Now Charles has his own girlfriend, whom I will call Cynthia, and he won’t be able to afford me if he loses his job. Yesterday, he said, “I’m starting to agree with Philip. Maybe we should live together.” Meanwhile Philip dreamed that William Shatner was running for Governor, and he wanted to be his campaign manager. I want to be getting a snack in my mother’s beachfront kitchen in New Hampshire in 1974 while she and my teenage brother watch Star Trek reruns on TV.
The Times article mentioned houses being sold on ebay and craigslist for prices like $2,000. Now if it turns out that the house you bought for $2,000 has been stripped of its innards, condemned by the city and comes with a large back-tax bill, your deal is slightly less awesome than what you can find on my ebay site (beautiful jewelry, guaranteed-your-money-back free of mold, mice, vandalism and zombie banks).
But my interest was piqued and I went on line, looking at houses in South Florida. Houses that cost $8,500, or $24,000, or $55,000. Tiny houses and very small houses and smallish houses that resemble road dividers. The tiny and very small ones are often cute, painted fuschia or tangerine, with front porches, bushes, and white trim. Dollhouses. Surely I can buy several, string them together like Christmas lights?
Ten minutes later I was reading an article on Huffingtonpost.com about the amazing deals that can be had now on designer clothes, electronics and so forth. They might as well have been talking about discount plastic dog vomit. I couldn’t imagine buying anything more indulgent than dessert.
Houses like cupcakes, and the rose-tinted old days. That’s what I dream about.
November 23, 2008 § 1 Comment
Last night I dreamed I was having sex with Stephen Colbert. He was quite enthusiastic, with interesting tastes. I grew fond of him in the course of it, as one does, and wanted him to stay the night, and the next night and forever, but he left me. When I was young I used to have very intense erotic dreams starring invented men whom I felt so connected to emotionally that I’d wake up confused and bereft, the way you’d feel if the moon disappeared and nobody but you remembered that it had ever existed. While I was in therapy I regularly received intriguing come-ons from handsome vampires and scotch-drinking ghosts, but my therapist unkindly insisted I turn them down. Now my dream lovers are either people I know or public figures. I always miss them in the morning. My husband once dreamed a spider crawled out of my vagina. He doesn’t remember this but I’ll never forget it. I think at the time (this was at least 15 years ago) I was scared that he’d seen my dark side, but now I would like to talk to that spider. Maybe she’d have a record of all my erotic adventures—have them on video in her crimson cave, ready to use as teaching tools for her many offspring with their tidy and delicate appendages.