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9.27.2007

It occurs to me, now that my blog is in its second year, that I have offered no explanation for its address/title. Yes, 'astollat' and 'wanderlust' do go together. They both have significance and they both relate to myself.

The address refers to the Arthurian heroine Elaine of Astollat, otherwise known as Shalott (that's an island, not an onion). In some stories, Elaine was cursed to dwell in her island bower unable to look out at the world outside her windows. In other stories, she was just a homebody, well-loved by her noble father and brave brothers. In both, she happens to fall in love with Lancelot who already loves Guinevere but admires Elaine more than all others regardless of his preference for married women. In all Elaine narratives, she dies of unrequited love - a mysterious illness that frequently infects poetic figures. Tennyson's two accounts of the story are my favourites. In his poem 'The Lady of Shalott', he implies that Elaine's death was not caused by her love, but by her longing to escape. She is trapped in her mirror-existence, only able to view the world through reflections - never through experience. Thus, when her dead body floats down to Camelot and Lancelot sees her lying pale and cold at the bottom of the boat, he simply observes, 'She has a lovely face. God in his mercy lend her grace.' Kind words for a stranger, signifying that the relationship between them was entirely a matter of Elaine's imagination. The world in Elaine's mirror in unreliable - it is her own vision of things, distanced from real experience, real relation. Her love of Lancelot is arbitrary - he is a traveler to Camelot, the city of her dreams, and she has placed upon his image all of her desires to escape her own walled-in existence.


Of course, it's also a nice melodramatic poem, good for Anne Shirley pageantries and long strolls through birch woods. I chose to use it for the blog because it represents the importance of point of view, of the distinctions between those who travel and those who remain - of which I am both, and of experiencing the world not through observations of cities or accounts of journeys so much as through individual interaction.

I could go on, but I have a sneaking suspicion that this is only interesting to myself. And so I will sign out of here, throw away my apple core, finish the dishes, and try to keep myself from spending the rest of the day watching Monarch of the Glen episodes.


9.26.2007

Digging for snails in the heat of a silent afternoon
all alone in the back of the backyard
watching the sun slip behind the eucalyptus
I dig too deep.

Ankles first and then the knees
the snails are forfeit to my predicament.
Digging for snails
in the heat after the rain
my fingers smelling like the loam
of the garden
my shoulders itching from the roots of the crabgrass.

I have dug myself a snail
a snail without a shell
till the sun on my skin
makes me quiver in the soil.
It has occurred to me that I'm afraid of snails
of their formlessness and motion -
in the shell a menace to the leaves
planted so carefully
out of the shell, a horror

- but I cannot not become one
for I have dug myself too deep.
I begin to lose my toes, my fingers
my brain which is gelling up my skull
cannot find the Thing to Do
the lever to extricate
a rope or a branch to pull upon
to remove my slugging self
from the rain-wet soil
(and even then, how would I remove
the stink from the tail?)

After much to-do
and several vain attempts
I prop my snailish face upon the surface
of the soil
spread myself still to the warm sky
and wait.

When God comes to dig for snails
like me, he must become one -
unlike me, he must not get stuck
but snail or no snail he is also a hand
and he removes me from the dug and dung
making of me also hands
that are also mourning doves

9.21.2007

Note: I am changing the template of this blog because the previous one was just plain boring. Observe my slow and steady movement out of the world of Neutral and into the world of Colour.

(Memories of Rainbow Wars on a dome-like screen, a gift shop with balloons of swirling reds and blues, photograph under a green tree over the green grass, wearing the straw hat with the polka dot ribbon...)

Looking back over some recent posts, I am feeling sort of smug and sick of myself. To temper that, I think I should note here that I recently watched 'She's the Man' with Amanda Bynes for the second time - and loved it just as much as I did the first.

9.17.2007

I recently finished reading Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I like the way he writes, telling the story once and then telling it through all over again from a different perspective, and then returning to the first perspective with all the things he seemed to have forgotten the first time through. Then he takes into account the dog's view of things, elaborates some details left out of the first few go-throughs, and finally tells the whole thing over once more, recollecting everything from the beginning in light of everything since. But it's really the same story from the first thirty pages repeated over the course of three hundred pages. And it's a beautiful novel.

Self-contradictory, and intentionally so, because he clearly states at the beginning that we only have one take at life. There are no practice rounds, he says. No trial runs or initial read-throughs. Not for the characters, but for the author the story can be repeated ad infinitum. As long as he can find a new set of eyes (Tomas's estranged son, the dying pet, or the ex-lover's ex-lover in Thailand) he can tell the story in a new way. It cannot happen more than once, but once can happen in an infinite number of ways.

I have been thinking about the different ways to tell a story, because I am trying to write one myself. Not doing a very good job of it. I can't seem to make up my mind about the basic style. My impulse is to write in a manner similar to Kundera. Take a few small events that make up a story and expand upon them according to the variety of eyes peering out of each neighbourhood window. But then I think of what the story actually is - and I hesitate. My story isn't like Kundera's at all. It is neither light nor heavy. It is a self-proclaimed 'perfect narrative arc,' and like all good stories it begins en media res. It is not like Kundera, who goes from beginning to end and back again in so many circles. It is like Big Fish.

I have not read the novel by Daniel Wallace, but I have seen the film. Tim Burton's adaptation of Big Fish came out in 2003, and I must confess that I didn't really like it back then. I knew that I should. It was a perfect story. A careful narrative arc with a variety of characters both exotic and strangely familiar. I have no excuse for myself. Perhaps I was in the mood for something with less narrative integrity, something, let's say, closer to Hollywood. But I am older now (cough*ahem), and better able to appreciate a good story for being just that - a good story. I appreciate it because it is rare. And if I want my own story to be anything, that is it - I want it to be a uniquely well-crafted story, with characters both exotic and familiar, and with undeniable narrative integrity. Burton's Big Fish charms. It is unbelievable, yes, but it wills you to believe despite yourself. To throw out some bigger words (which are only acceptable because this was about Kundera to begin with), Big Fish dares to ignore all the postmodern claims on narrative by telling a story as Homer told stories. Dare I call such a method universal?

Don't get me wrong. I like The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I like it alot. I think Kundera is brilliant. I enjoyed every minute I read it. And I know that if I could write like that, I would be a laudable author. But I am not sure that I want to be a good author. I think I would rather tell a good story. Is it necessary to choose? Perhaps not. But I haven't yet figured out the balance between the two.

9.16.2007

Faith is simple in Rome.

You climb the Holy Steps on your knees and pray.
You weep or you do not weep according to the Spirit.

You stand before the Pieta and pray.
You weep or you do not weep according to the Spirit.

You kneel before the crucifix and pray.
You weep or you do not weep according to the Spirit.

Here, it is different. You take your Bible to Starbucks. You underline verses, write in the margins, refer to your sermon notes.
Your Bible study meets you. They discuss the role of the Holy Spirit and how He lends a sense of peace to your decisions.
On the way home, you stop to fill the tank of the Accord. Your radio is playing praise songs. The emcee interrupts to talk about donations and God is Good.
The next day at work you try to share the Gospel with a coworker. You write it on a napkin during your lunch break. Afterwards, he uses it to wipe his hands from his microwaveable meal. What can you do but throw the Napkin Gospel in the trash? He agrees to join you on Sunday. You raise your hands. 'Praise God!' and smile.

You remember Rome. You remember faith being simple. You remember peace.
That was in winter. Now the Holy Steps are being photographed by tourist groups. Maybe it is not so simple. Maybe there is not so much peace.
But you remember.
And you weep.
Not from the Spirit, but like a child missing its mother. Your Mother.

Pacce. Pacce. Lord have mercy.

9.01.2007

Back in town and somewhat uncertain about the future. Even so, not feeling much pressure thereby, but willing to let the days come as they must, knowing that I will be vigilant and God will be gracious. In Long Beach for an indefinite period of days - watching my parents do their thing and exerting last minute attempts to reform my brother before he returns to his naval duties and unsavoury bachelor ways. Do I misrepresent him on the internet? Perhaps, but in trust that all who read information withal are aware of its instability, its potential inaccuracy, its ungovernable subjectivity. Time to break fast and wake up the family with chortles and halloos.
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