July 2009


David Lowery first posted the clip below, and agirlcalledness reminded me of my crush, but one really has to ask: why do all the boys and girls love Zooey Deschanel?

“Change is hard, I should know.”

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We hurt one another. We go through life dressing up in new clothes and covering our true motives. We meet up lightly, we drink rosé wine, and then we give each other pain. We don’t want to! What we want to do, what one really wants to do is put out one’s hands—like some danger, in a trance, just put out one’s hands—and touch all the people and tell them: I’m sorry. I love you. Thanks for your e-mail. Thank you for coming to see me. Thank you. I love you. But we can’t…. We do not keep each other company. We do not send each other cute text messages. Or, rather, when we do these things, we do them merely to postpone the moment when we’ll push these people off, and beat forward, beat forward on our little raft, alone.

All the Sad Young Literary Men, Keith Gessen (see NYRB)

Half-way through part two of Children Full of Life, classroom conversation takes what I thought would be a predictable return to the status quo. The teacher takes his place at the front of the class and talks at the students. The words are unfamiliar, but the rhythms of the speech, and the straight-through, vacant stares from the students seems only one step removed from some classrooms I have taught in. But then something happens. The teacher stops talking and asks the students to think.

As the title suggests, Children Full of Life is a little aw-shucks easy; the story is told through narration rather than editing, unlike Etre et Avoir (To Be and to Have), a brilliant documentary set in a very small French primary school. I showed the latter film to my students and they were able to follow, cheer even, for their favourite students, without understanding a word, merely by reading the body language, tone of voice and facial gestures.

On my last day of school one of my favourite students, Satoki, a 10 year-old who’s just three foot tall, came to my classroom to tell me he was sad I was leaving, very sad; he said it over and over, but he couldn’t stop smiling. I was sad, too, but also had to smile.

It’s a difficult gig, being a kid.

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Part profile of Gotemba, part day-in-the-life-of, this gives you an idea of my Japan experience.

You tell people that you live on Fuji-san (Mount Fuji). But today is not one of those days.

You ride to school through a two-day old fog. Fuji is usually right there, but today she is fixing her kimono behind the clouds. Come the change of seasons you’ll have to re-assign gender. Throughout winter she powders her nose and looks pretty, cut into a clear blue sky. But come summer he is ominous and ugly, his volcanic ash complexion exposed. Every evening, however, amidst the swirls of pinks and oranges, he charms photographers, climbers, and fools alike. They say only a fool climbs Fuji twice. You are an everyday fool.

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For Jeremy:

Jeremy, you sing this song better than Bowie, particularly the line: “He was the nas / with God given ass”.

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Perhaps I traveled to0 much, left my heart in too many places, I knew what I was supposed to feel, what it was fashionable for my generation to feel. We cared about everything: fascism in Germany and Italy, the seizure of Manchuria, Indian nationalism, the Irish question, the Workers, the Negroes, the Jews. We had spread our feelings over the whole world; and I knew that mine were spread very thin. I cared — oh yes, I certainly cared — about the Austrian socialists. But did I care as much as I said I did, tried to imagine I did? No, not nearly as much. I felt angry with Patterson; but he, at least, was honest. What is the use of caring at all, if you aren’t prepared to dedicate your life to die? Well, perhaps it was some use. Very, very little.

Prater Violet, Christopher Isherwood

First of all, I dreamt that I was in a court-room. This, I knew, was a political trial. Some communists were being sentenced to death. The Prosecuter was a hard-faced, middle-aged, blonde woman, with her hair twisted in a knot on the back of her head.She stood up, gripping one of the accused men by his coat-collar, and marched him down the room towards the judge’s desk. As they advanced she drew a revolver and shot the communist in the back. His knees sagged, and his chin fell forward, but she dragged him on, until they faced the judge, and she cried, in a loud voice: ‘Look! Here is the traitor!’

A girl was sitting beside me, among the spectators. In some way I was aware that she was a hospital nurse by profession. As the prosecutor held up the dying man, she rose and ran out of the court-room in tears. I followed, down passages and flights of steps, into a cellar, where there were central-heating pipes. The cellar was fitted with bunks, like a barrack. The girl lay down on one of them, sobbing. And then several youths came in. I knew that they belonged to the Hitler Jugend; but instead of uniforms, they wore bits of bearskin, with belts, helmets, and swords, shoddy and theatrical-looking, such as supers might wear in a performance of The Ring. Their partly naked bodies were covered with acne and skin-rash; and they seemed tired and dispirited. They climbed into their bunks, without taking the least notice of the girl, or of me.

Then I was walking up a steep, very narrow street. A Jew came running down towards me, with his wrists stuffed into his overcoat pockets. I knew that this was because his hands had been shot off. He had to hide his injuries. If anyone saw them he would be recognized and lynched.

At the top of the street I found an old lady, dressed in a kind of uniform, French ‘horizon blue’. She was snivelling and cursing to herself. It was she who had shot off the Jew’s hands. She wanted to shoot him again; but her ammunition (which was, I noticed with surprise, only for a .22 rifle) lay scattered on the ground. She couldn’t collect it, because she was blind.

Then I went into the British Embassy, where I was welcomed by a cheerful, fatuous, drawling young man, like Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster. He pointed out to me that the walls of the entrance-hall were covered in post-impressionist and cubist paintings. ‘The Ambassador like them,’ he explained. ‘I mean, to say, a bit of contrast, what?’

Somehow, I couldn’t bring myself to tell this dream to Bergmann. I wasn’t in the mood for one of his elaborate and perhaps disagreeably personal interpretations. Also, I had a curious suspicion that he had put the whole thing, telepathically, into my head.

Prater Violet, Christopher Isherwood

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