Fin in a Waste of Waters

"These moments of escape are not to be despised. They come too seldom....Leaning over this parapet I see far out a waste of water. A fin turns....I note under 'F.,' therefore, 'Fin in a waste of waters.' I, who am perpetually making notes in the margin of my mind for some final statement, make this mark, waiting for some winter's evening." (from Woolf's THE WAVES)

21 October 2006

Relaxing a bit

So, usually I never give myself the time to indulge myself in these things, but I was tempted this time (especially since Rasheed & I are waiting for the rain to stop its downpour before we head to Apostrophe cafe for their amaaaazing green tea & more of Lawrence's Women in Love)...

1. FIRST NAME? Tessa


3. WHEN DID YOU LAST CRY? Last Sunday night (early Monday morning) at 1 a.m., doing more of that brain tumor research that you have to do, but hate to. Did you know that 50% of surgically treated lesions will recur & do so malignantly? Yeah, I sure as hell didn't.




7. DO YOU HAVE A JOURNAL? This blog, and another written journal (which I've shamefully neglected in favour of this blog...)


9. WOULD YOU BUNGEE JUMP? Oof - don't think so...

10. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CEREAL? Marks & Spencer Deliciously Nutty Crunch. MMM.


12. DO YOU THINK YOU ARE STRONG? More than I'd like to be.

13. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE ICE CREAM FLAVOR? Don't eat ice cream; too much sugar. Though when I did eat ice cream, any variety of chocolate floated my boat!

14. SHOE SIZE? Anywhere from 6 to 8, depending on the brand of shoes.

15. RED OR PINK? Oooohh...BOTH.


17. WHO DO YOU MISS THE MOST? Lots of people...Mish, the Wall, D-Shof...lots of people.

18. DO YOU WANT EVERYONE TO SEND THIS BACK TO YOU? Well, it's a blog, so they can't send it...but if you want to copy & paste into email & send it to me with your own answers, I'll take it!

19. WHAT COLOR PANTS, SHIRT AND SHOES ARE YOU WEARING? "Sex Out Loud" T-shirt (hot pink); Rasheed's shorts (yellow plaid). No shoes.

20. LAST THING YOU ATE? My new favorite salad: amazingly tasty and healthy! Everyone try it! Brussels sprouts, steamed and quartered. Red onions, sliced & lightly sauteed in olive oil. Toss with walnuts, feta cheese & then dress with olive oil & balsamic vinegar. Mmmm.

21. WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO RIGHT NOW? Rain, and the sound of Rasheed's palms sliding across his prayer rug as he does his mid-day.


23. FAVORITE SMELL? Citrus in the summer; vanilla in the winter...spicy stuff in the fall (cinnamon, etc), and in the spring...honeydew.



26. DO YOU LIKE THE PERSON WHO SENT YOU THIS? She didn't send it (I stole it off her blog), but yeah I do!

27. FAVORITE DRINK? Tea: green. Or herbal infusions: lemon & ginger.


29. EYE COLOR? Blue.

30. HAT SIZE? Umm...


32. FAVORITE FOOD? All kinds! Right now...kalimata olives.


35. SUMMER OR WINTER? Whatever season I happen to be in.

36. HUGS OR KISSES? I want it all! At once, preferably!

37. FAVORITE DESSERT? Pumpkin pie!!

38. WHO IS MOST LIKELY TO RESPOND? Probably Cheryl & Holly, my two best responders. :) Love to hear what you have to say, ladies!

39. LEAST LIKELY TO RESPOND? Anyone else who may or may not read this.

40. WHAT BOOKS ARE YOU READING? Women in Love (Lawrence), Salome (Wilde), The Yellow 90s (Jackson), The London Scene (Woolf).

41. WHAT'S ON YOUR MOUSE Pad? No mouse - laptop.

42. WHAT DID YOU WATCH LAST NIGHT ON TV? A Taste of Cherry, this Iranian film about a man who wants to commit suicide & is searching for someone who will agree to bury him afterwards - it ended....irresolutely. Someone else see this and tell me what you think!

43. FAVORITE SOUNDS? Rain. Otters (especially one little otter) barking. The sound of my feet - running or dancing. Or even more, the sound of tens and tens of dancers on a wood floor!



46. WHAT'S YOUR SPECIAL TALENT? It's hard to decide for myself without sounding egotistical. Writing, I guess. Dancing, I hope.

47. WHERE WERE YOU BORN? Rockford, IL, St. Anthony's hospital. Where was I reborn? Same place. :)

48. WHO SENT THIS TO YOU? I stole it from WoollyMutts.

16 October 2006

Talking to strangers

The other day, sitting in the sun-warm window of a cafe, reading Conrad's Heart of Darkness for the third time (made even better by having just finished The Secret Agent!), I met, or rather, encountered, as she neither introduced herself nor inquired the names of any of her listeners, the most exquisite older woman.

At the start, it was just she and I. I sat down in the window - so bright I needed to wear my sunglasses to be able to read with the sun's glare on my book - and she immediately followed, stooping to ask if the seat across from my table was taken. Being empty, she put a glove - black, well-stitched, neat and small, like the rest of her, as you'll see - across it, and went to fetch a bottle of water and her drink - something clear and effervescent, appropriately, perhaps Italian soda. She was moving from another table.

At first, she simply stared out the window, directly into the sun. I kept my book open, but actually watched her, glad I had kept my sunglasses on so that she wouldn't notice I stared. She was beautiful: clear, nearly translucent blue eyes, made more so by the light; clear, nearly taut skin; weightless waves of white hair floating impeccably-shaped around her face, but thinning so that I could see her pink scalp in many places; a perfectly-cut black blazer, black skirt, turquoise blouse & one of those old Victorian brooches, and a long necklace, actually a heart-shaped stone suspended by a black cord. Finally, black stockings, knit like lace, ending in small black shoes, neatly laced and tied in tight bows. She sat like a girl, bony knees knocked together, heels out; but hands clasped properly on her lap. She didn't touch her drink, but only stared out the window. I didn't touch my book, but only stared at her.

Finally, a middle-aged mother with a baby boy and a teenaged girl came in and sat. The woman's face immediately lit up at the sight of the boy, and she began asking the mother questions about him, deducing, for example, from his hand-knit sweater that he was obviously well-cared for. Then, she began to talk. "I had two of my own," she explained. Had? The verb struck me. I wondered if she had outlived them. And later: "When my husband passed" - I studied her white hair, such a sign of age, but her skin - still so smooth - she couldn't have been any older than her late 60s at the most. But what made her seem most tragic was her loneliness, that she would approach these strangers, not even pretend to simply stumble happily upon us, but that she would reach out to us so deliberately to talk about her family and her life.

Mostly, she talked about her grandmother, who was Irish and had 14 children. This was a conversation that I was left out of, but mostly, I was glad to listen. The mother next to me, though, was able to comment here and there. Her teenaged daughter smiled once or twice at her mom's allusions to her babyhood. As the woman talked, she drank, first the soda, and then the water. And as if it were an hourglass, her time to talk ran out with the liquid. Upon finishing the water, she put the bottle in the plastic soda cup: the conversation was over. She said her goodbyes and left the cafe. "She was sweet," the mother murmured to her daughter, who replied unintelligibly.

The woman, out on the street now, threw away the bottle & cup, and continued on. As she walked, I noticed that her stockings had one very round hole - not even a run - but one hole on the back of her leg where her skin showed - glowing white in the sun - through her otherwise perfect dress.

I think I liked her best for this.

12 October 2006

Supermarket kindness

I meant to write about this a few days ago:

On my way home from class the other day, I stopped by Marks & Spencer to do my grocery shopping; I had 22 pounds cash - no credit card (why I didn't bring my credit card with me that day is still a mystery). Since the tumor, I've always grocery shopped with a credit card - that way, I don't stress out about the money I'm spending on healthy food (especially those fruits & veg that are loooaded with antioxidants & all sorts of goodies). B.T. (Before Tumor), I used to force myself to shop only with a limited amount of cash as a money-saving strategy (my junior year, I made 1 box of macaroni & cheese, 1 can of tuna, and 1 cup of peas [all cooked together] last for 4 meals; and I did it almost weekly - I'm serious). This was obviously unhealthy from a nutritional standpoint (but who of us hasn't been here?). Also from a mental-health perspective: grocery-shopping used to be a terror, counting numbers in my head, white-knuckling the handle of my food-basket, putting away fruits and veg, other healthy delicious things as if I were punishing myself. I used to leave the store sweating.

A.T., I promised myself that I wouldn't compromise my health (mental & otherwise) in this way anymore. I determined to always shop with a credit card, and to spend the most money in the produce section. And since then, I've nearly always hit my 6-8 servings of fruit & veg daily. Since then, I've learned how to breathe again in supermarkets.

The other day, then, shopping without plastic - it brought back those days. Standing in the produce section, staring at the prices, grasping my basket against my belly, I was determined by mental power alone to will the numbers to add up, to still get my fruits & veg (and milk and juice and cheese and chicken for dinner that night and the next and the next) for under 22 quid.

And I nearly did. Standing in line for checkout, I began to wonder, sweat, as I surveyed my goods. An older man, gray-haired, stooped, blue flannel-clad like my dad by November and wearing thick glasses, got in line behind me, and I put one of the plastic dividers on the conveyor belt behind my things for him. "Thanks! You know, you're the first person I've seen do that here!" He exclaimed. "Really?" I was surprised; this is just something I always do; I thought it was just what you did in line.

Then it was my turn. I instantly liked Margaret, the middle-aged woman scanning the groceries. She noticed the cotton bag I use to carry my groceries home in (save plastic!), and asked where I got it (it sported a photo of James Joyce...), and then cunningly pointed out the reusable grocery bags that M & S sells. She asked about my accent, where I was from. "Chicago area," I answered. "Really? Your accent isn't that strong!" She then went on to confide in me that the checker one aisle over was French-Canadian, and his accent was really strong - I liked that I was in on the gossip.

But I didn't make it - the total hit 25 pounds and some pence. My face got hot. I'd gotten rusty since those days of mac & cheese. "Uh, I guess take out the eggs. I don't have quite enough on me." "You can use credit cards here, honey." "Oh, I don't have it with me." "That's no problem then, we do this all the time." I was sweating now; the line lengthened interminably behind me. The eggs didn't get me low enough. "Uh, the apples, too. Guess I was shopping hungry." I tried to laugh. "Oh, we all do sometimes!" Margaret smiled at me and the man behind me for good measure. My total was low enough now; I paid, and began stuffing the rest of my groceries in my bag.

"Wait!" It was the older man behind me. "Wait, how much is it?" He asked Margaret, pointing to my waif-like eggs & apples left abandoned and sad alongside the till. "Not very much, only 3 pounds or so." "Let me pay for it! I'll buy 'em." My mouth literally dropped open. "No, no, it's okay," I grabbed my bag. "No, wait!" And he bought them for me. "Well, that's very nice," Margaret was beaming. "It is!" I jumped to agree. I wanted to hug the man; he shrunk from my American exuberance, but let me pat his arm - "Thank you!" "Are you a student 'ere?" He asked. "Uh huh!" "Not psychology?" "" "Well, that's alright then!" He started laughing. "English?" "Actually, yeah!" "Well, that's good then! Literature?" "Uh huh!" "Well, that's great!" Shouting another thank -you over my shoulder, I fled the store, wondering how he knew I studied literature, forgetting in my grocery-line anxiety and ultimate relief that my bag sported James Joyce.

(And this made me remember another day, years ago, my first year at the Univ. of IL - one day during my first couple of weeks on campus, I was caught in a downpour on my walk home from class - a boy, a complete stranger, shared his umbrella with me. "Are you an English major?" He asked. "Yeah, how can you tell?" "You can always tell the English majors." I puzzled over this the entire walk home; and now, again..)

05 October 2006

Living the sea; writing Virginia

The sun had not yet risen. The sea was indistinguishable from the sky, except that the sea was slightly creased as if a cloth had wrinkles in it. Gradually as the sky whitened a dark line lay on the horizon dividing the sea from the sky and the grey cloth became barred with thick strokes moving one after another, beneath the surface, following each other, pursuing each other, perpetually.

Virginia Woolf's The Waves begins with this description of the sea, of waves.

As they neared the shore each bar rose, heaped itself, broke and swept a thin veil of white water across the sand. The wave paused, and then drew out again, sighing like a sleeper whose breath comes and goes unconsciously.

The waves of each of her previous novels, beginning so particularly with the dark ocean-bottom currents that rock Rachel Vinrace of The Voyage Out, finally break on this novel.

Now, living on the sea, I begin to understand. The sea affects me; I begin to believe I hear it even in my dreams, though my window does not face it. I eat breakfast in the morning facing it. And every morning, its face is different. Every morning, I think more and more about how spending summers on the sea at St. Ives must have affected Woolf (or may I call her Virginia?).

She does not simply write about the sea: the sea is in her writing. It permeates her words - her writing, even the books themselves, rise and fall like waves. It is almost as if she were living the lives of waves. Within the books, there is a pushing, and a retreat...and the books themselves, there is To the Lighthouse, and then Orlando, as what Virginia called "a joke"; there is The Waves, followed by Flush, the biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's dog. There is a surge of creative power, followed by a hush of headache, voices, illness - until finally, she herself drowns, or, drowns herself, in the river Ouse. Just as so many have drowned before her - Rachel and Rhoda, the woman of Between the Acts, Woolf's own last act.

This is a pattern I had certainly noted previously, but never, until, even after a couple of weeks, actually living on the sea began to understand. I remember the first time I saw it - an hour outside of Portland, OR, Cannon Beach, my cousin Ann's wedding. I took pictures of it - picture after picture - the waves, cold and grey, kept changing, and I wanted to catch them all. The next time, Hawaii, at a conference. I went swimming in it, the day after the conference finished. Swimming against the waves, out to sea, out against the long-dead coral reef, a calcium-deposit like a bank of broken bones, like jagged teeth tearing at my feet and hands and knees as I scrambled over it. Then, to plunge into the deep unknown water on the other side to swim further still, swim until my arms and legs had gone numb, until I couldn't breathe, and had to let myself be carried back, floating, over the reef again, and then to where it was shallow enough to stand, to stand neck-deep, anyway, in the bath-warm water.

These earlier times, I glimpsed the effect of the sea, its ability to pull me out - out? - out of what? - rather, it pulled me in. It is an In.

And I stop. What is this inviting force?

Is this what she was pulled into? This is something I understand as well. Did the sea become discourse for her spells of depression, exhaustion?

This is the first time I have actually thought about what it might have been to make me keep swimming - this is the first time since then that I have remembered that sense of bordering on danger: "what would happen if I don't stop?" But there is the desire to continue -

And this is something I am too familiar with, that desire to push further, to succumb to that force, to follow the pull... I am not about to make a claim that I suffer from any sort of the depression that Virginia did. Of course not. But in the seizures, there is a similar pull. In the seizures during which I remain slightly coherent, but immobilized, except for the movement to grasp hold of someone or something. In the seizures during which I am aware of what is happening, what it feels like, but can do nothing about it. These are the seizures that act like riddles on my body, and I feel as if I only followed them a little further, a little deeper into myself, I would somehow solve it, there would be some answer there. And so I cease to fight it. I give myself up to it. And it feels like I imagine death will someday feel like. First, the yearning for it. Then, however, the pain sets in - hot and spreading from my tongue to my face across my scalp, making me believe I feel it in my brain itself, and down the entire left side of my body, a hot tingling sensation. Then, terror. But it is too late to fight. Then, I can only wait.

And I wonder: is this what it was for her? This desire? It is not weakness; it is willed. And she writes it, lives it, in the pull of the sea.

How lucky, I think to myself, that I live on the sea while I write her.

04 October 2006

Henry James heroine

So, during this time abroad, first in London, then Budapest, and now Brighton, a few of my professors have commented that I'm "living the life of a Henry James heroine!" I immediately thought of Isabel Archer, the somewhat naieve American who travels to England, France, Italy (but never Henrietta Stackpole, though perhaps I share her professionality!).

Then, in What Maisie Knew, I read:

"She was 'abroad' and she gave herself up to it, responded to it....Her vocation was to see the world and to thrill with enjoyment of the picture; she had grown older in five minutes....Literally in the course of an hour she found her initation...." (The Wordsworth Classics edition, p 141).

Aha. Yes, this is so much what I feel!

03 October 2006

Just let me roast.

Dignity. The last word that should come to your mind when thinking about university-owned housing. True, it was easier & cheaper than finding my own flat in Brighton. True, our flats are self-contained, and, for the most part, self-sustained. And there's that weekly cleaning service. It didn't seem like much of a sacrifice, then, that every now & then a pair of enthusiastic & charmingly British RAs barge into our flat to put up signs about floor meetings, pub crawls, etc (my non-attached female roommates come out of their rooms whenever they hear these male voices; makes me glad I came with my own!)...

Until the 9 a.m. fire drill. I was already awake (thank God), and getting my breakfast ready: I was hungry, and those scrambled eggs looked promising, I tell ya. The second that alarm hit its high wail, I knew it was a drill. So I did the smart thing, and turned off the stove, and took my pan off the burner (no sense setting off a fire alarm for real with breakfast-smoke). I already have a sweater and shoes on (just ask about the dirty carpet), so I just lock up my door & head out with my roommates (in various stages of sleepiness, with the exception of Evo [our one man], who had early class, and Efwah, who is still MIA). We get outside, then, only to be chastised by a woman holding a remote alarm trigger (the cause of the evil) for not making it out in less than three minutes (I'd like to add that I live on the 5th floor; or in the U.S., that'd be the 6th floor - that's a lotta stairs). "Should've just let me roast," I mutter sarcastically, not, I have to add, to the unappreciation of my similarly grumpy flatmates.

And when I get back upstairs, my eggs? Burnt. I eat them anyway, watching the sea, which I planned to write about this morning. It's calm today; yesterday, angry and gray and flinging its white frothy arms against the stones. I like its moods. So like a woman like me.