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)

17 February 2007

Worth waking up to.../Happy New Year

What they call a "deep dark secret": sometimes, I get discouraged. Yes, despite my wild love for my work, it sometimes happens, after days of solid work, when I haven't showered; grocery-shopped; nor even sometimes left the flat for more than a few minutes at a time, and then only to run outside to pick up the food I've ordered in (the delivery boys at Viceroy of India down the street know me by now); when I've gone cross-eyed reading (I literally lost the ability to focus last night for nearly twenty minutes); after I finally set it all aside for a moment before falling into fitful sleep and realize that these hours upon hours have made little or no dent in what I have left to do - sometimes, I get discouraged. And then, guilt follows: how, how do I justify letting myself get discouraged when I am living that long-worked-for goal? And then shame... And then, if I'm lucky, after tossing and turning, then sleep. Last night was one of these particularly hard nights - after days of meetings, relentless (if thoroughly, deeply satisfying) reading (from Woolf to Kristeva to Joyce), and of course, writing...all incredibly invigorating, but then last night - I realized that regardless of how much I've done in the last 5 days, I only had 2 days to get through twice as much more before my classes on Monday. Finally too tired to keep reading, I spent some quality time with Jess & Efua, playing patience on the floor of Efua's room, waiting for my body to unwind before I put it to bed (if not my mind)...this was our Friday night. Early in the a.m., a seizure woke me up (incredibly disheartening after the optimism of a 3-day streak seizure-free, a relief from the daily or twice-daily spells I've been suffering from since shortly before visiting the States in December); I ended up sleeping right up until my alarm went off at 9:30 (usually I wake up naturally by 8ish, which, with a sufficient side of coffee, is far more conducive to Kristeva; Woolf I like after lunch, reading her at the time of day when she wrote her letters...). Even with that extra bit of sleep, the seizure had left me shaky; I was slow getting out of bed, unsure if I could do it without another attack. But of course, we can't spend our days in bed, so I got up to check my email, of which there were 70 to sift through (Penn call for papers...) of which:

My first grad acceptance has come. Univ. of CA at Irvine. And they're willing to fight for me; they'd like to know what my other offers are (hopefully more will come) so that they can "negotiate" with me. More, they've offered to reimburse my travel expenses & put me in a hotel if I'd like to visit in March (which I will only do if they'll let me push up the date; otherwise, I'll be missing part of Rasheed's visit). Wow. This comes as such a relief - I have a place somewhere this fall - and is so humbling at the same time - have I done this? And after all of the work...what a reward.

To celebrate (and to get me out of the flat), Jess took me out for breakfast - specifically to the same table at the same Starbucks for the same drink as when I had my first moment of "waiting for grad acceptances" panic just a week ago. And what a beautiful morning: the sun was beaming on calm waves; the air, mild - warm, even; my latte & cinnamon roll, deliciously decadent (there are not enough "l's" within my momentarily limited reach (caffeine slump) to describe it, to make my tongue as happy pronouncing it as it was tasting it...); the people, easy and laughing - I saw a man playing the tuba on stilts in the Lanes, and this made me exorbitantly giddy - certainly worth the 20p I threw in the upturned hat lying at his "feet." We stopped in Jess's favorite chemist's (Boots) & then her favorite home store, where we drooled over the kitchen supplies (tea pots! coffee machines!) we can't afford to put in our non-existant houses. And finally, the Body Shop, where I treated myself to some hand cream (it's made out of hemp!), though in my defense, I had run out, and I have little cuts all over my knuckles where the skin dries and cracks...

And now, though I have come home to get back to work (and much invigorated!), I've realized, it's not over - far from. Tonight is the Eve of the Chinese New Year, the year of the pig. And I'm the pig. Already, it's my year (and a few of my flatmates & friends! In the words of Jess: "The rut is over!"). Tonight we go out to dinner for more celebration, both of the new year, and now, in my heart, of my first acceptance. Worth waking up to what? Life (the present in general, and Virginia Woolf's and Roger Fry's, whose I'm currently working through), the Lanes (and a man on stilts playing the tuba), a New Year!

11 February 2007


I know that I'm bordering on redundancy of the worst kind (focusing on such a trivial matter), but I wanted to recall another moment of 'muff magic (because sometimes it's really the little things that count):

Once, just before the holidays, I was waiting for the bus. It was pretty late at night, cold, and I was alone, shivering. On top of that, I didn't have bus fare - I had a twenty pound note, but the bus doesn't take 20s, and all of the shops were closed, so I couldn't change it. A mother with her little boy stood at the other end of the stop, he gripping her hand and leaning against her knee, braced against the wind. I glanced at them, but didn't give them much else attention until: "Mama, MA-ma! I've seen her! Look! Look! I've seen Santa's elf!" The bus pulled up. He jumped up and down pointing at me. I started, bewildered - ah-ha...the
muffs. The bus door opened; I shot the boy an elfish? smile, leapt on amidst cries of "Santa's elf!", proffered my twenty to the driver. He gave me a grin - "We don't take twenties - just go 'head an' sit" - and the door swooshed shut behind me.

Such was the magic of the muffs (in a time when we need more magic, which perhaps explains [if it doesn't quite excuse] my preoccupation with their passing).

08 February 2007

Elegy for lost earmuffs

Yesterday, my big fluffy white earmuffs broke...(I would never actually "lose" them, like at the supermaket or something). No, I was putting them on, and *snap* over my head, the band broke at its center.

My earmuffs...they were by no means one of a kind, not at all unique. No, we picked up one day at the Gap, my earmuffs, myself, and a pair of furry gloves. And ever since, my earmuffs and I have been inseparable - they've been with me back and forth over the Atlantic (and suffered an exploding pen situation on this most recent trip...loyal to the last, I wore them still, blue ink stains and all); they saw London for the first time with me, and Portland, OR; and finally, their ultimate resting-place, Brighton.

They were by no means unique, but they were my own, they were my trademark. They won compliments and comments and the occasional beep of a horn from complete strangers on the street; smiles from the overworked women who rang up my groceries at Marks&Spencer; drinks from lonely old men in pubs; jokes, hugs, and cuddling from those who knew me best ("You know those aren't legal in England?" prompted one professor). Walking home from tango one night with my friend Korhan - he looked away for a moment; I put on the earmuffs; he turned back to respond to some question of mine, saw the muffs, and burst out laughing, mid-sentence. "Now that was a moment!" I can't say it any better than he did that night. Such was the magic of the muffs. They had a life of their own, spirit.

And then that terrible, gut-wrenching *snap* over my head yesterday afternoon. The logical thing to do was to throw them away, right? No sense regretting irrevocably lost ties. They looked so sad and lifeless in the rubbish bin, like a small furry animal. I left them there for the day, left for campus. I came home that night, ate dinner. But when I tossed my banana peel away on top of them, it was too much, and I had to retrieve them. Such is our current condition: they lie mangled on my desk, leaving my ears cold in the weather here that's suddenly decided for the first time all winter to actually hit zero (celsius).

My poor lost muffs. What is there to do but lament your passing? (And start shopping for hats...there will never be muffs like you again.)

07 February 2007


Recently, a new kind of dream (though I did dream a house-dream not too much previously; I was cleaning out my house/body, and in it, caught a bird whose warm soft body I held protectively in my hand, sensing I for some reason needed to shelter this being). A few nights ago, I dreamt that I was back at my parents' house, though it did not look like their house actually does - it was rather a log cabin, or lodge - thus is the logic of dreams. My friend Raymond was visiting me there, wearing for some reason fur. In this dream, we were closer friends than we actually are in reality; he sat with me in my bed, and I cozied up to his furs. First, he told me his own good news: that he had won another international study abroad grant (he's a fellow Fulbrighter), and that he was planning to study in Ottowa. He pointed it out to me on a map I had on my log-wall, though, and the place he pointed out to me does not actually exist, was some strange liminal land stranded between Canada and Greenland, floating somehow. When his finger touched the map, I had an immediate mental image of snow-swept plains, caves. "Explains the fur," I thought. Then he told me my own good news: that I was going to get pregnant. "Fat chance!" I laughed at him. He insisted that I would. I doubted my brash response...

In dreams, pregnancy doesn't necessarily mean pregnancy. Rather, it is the birth of something new, a new opportunity, a gift. A pregnancy dream is something to be excited about. Why, then, did I laugh? Was there some embittered part of my brain just conscious enough to deny me this dream? And why?

But the shakedown: on the same night, my friend Shadie dreamt that I was pregnant. So perhaps I am expecting...what? Something new; something big? There's a lot I have in the air right now, both new and big.

06 February 2007

Katie Mitchell's The Waves

Last night, I saw Katie Mitchell's stage adaptation of Woolf's The Waves at the National Theatre (they're running two more shows, Thurs. and Fri., for any of my local readers who have interest). Brilliant - a hybrid of narrative, theatre, and film. A narrator (Woolf herself, perhaps? A husky-voiced woman hunched over a desk with a cigarette and a pen, pensive but assured - perhaps a cliche representation, but Mitchell used it well) read scenes from the novel itself, and from other Woolf works (I was able to identify a few things, journal entries, A Sketch of the Past - not all...but Woolf recycles so much, it's hard to tell at times); the actors performed; actors not involved in the action at hand filmed those who were, projecting the images onto a screen dropped over the stage. The simultaneity was intense - the action as a whole unfolding while the minutest detail unravelled in tandem behind it...each character, separate, but on stage finally together (perhaps how Woolf intended, cutting so quickly from character to character, embodying them as the six/seven sides of a single carnation at dinner...) and regarding the others' individual reactions to the death of Percival, detached, watching it only on screen. And finally (achieving first Paul Fort's and then Oscar Wilde's dream), Mitchell has (unwittingly perhaps) engaged all of the senses simultaneously (at least if you sat in the front row, like me)...voice & music & the clatter of dishes, footsteps & tap-dancing & laundry flapping; the actors, at once so real, juxtaposed with the acute, painful detail of flower petals afloat in a bowl, a face - open-eyed, breathing out - underwater, red fingernails, a letter-opener; cigarette smoke; an acrid explosion on my tongue - cigar smoke; and finally, dust beaten from the gravel one woman walked in, dust kicked up to land in my eye.

The narrative decision Mitchell makes at the end, however... I will leave this blank so as not to spoil the ending of the novel or play for anyone who intends to read/see them. But whoever wants to talk about it...

I didn't want to leave at the end. Conversely, I wanted nothing but to leave, and beat my way mercilessly through the crowd at the coat-check to finally win the cold empty night air. I'm glad I went alone to this play. I could not talk about it at first, and still cannot completely. I wished that no one would talk after these things - why fritter away the effect by positing opinions, chit-chatting lamely, posing pretentiously until you have had time to think about what you've seen? The south bank, alone with my footfall and the purple lights of the theatre and the oleaginous black gleam of the river, in a light rain, following a line of street was relief. Walking to the theatre and back...I was so nostalgic for London & for memories there, wanted so much to live there again (meeting Shadie for dinner earlier, he'd commented: "You're so happy to be here!" I was...I love Brighton, but London will always be "my city," the closest to home I've come to so far). Then, to get on the near-empty tube and rock and sway back to Victoria station... I wasn't alone. I'm never alone in that city. (And it made me think again about Woolf, about The London Scene...but now I'm in circles.)