28 February 2009

the first of March

Charlotte Bronte -- Villette -- "London"

The next day was the first of March, and when I awoke, rose, and opened my curtain, I saw the risen sun struggling through fog. Above my head, above the housetops, dark-blue and dim -- THE DOME. While I looked, my inner self moved; my spirit shook its always-fettering wings half loose; I had a sudden feeling as if I, who had never yet truly lived, were at last about to taste life: in that morning my soul grew as fast as Jonah's gourd.

'I did well to come,' I said, proceeding to dress with speed and care. 'I like the spirit of this great London which I feel around me. Who but a coward would pass his whole life in hamlets, and for ever abandon his faculties to the eating rust of obscurity?'

Prodigious was the amount of life I lived that morning. Finding myself before St. Paul's, I went in: I mounted to the dome: I saw thence London, with its rivers, and its bridges, and its churches; I saw antique Westminster, and the green Temple Gardens, with sun upon them, and a glad, blue sky of early spring above; and, between them and it, not too dense a cloud of haze.

Descending, I went wandering whither chance might lead, in a still ecstacy of freedom and enjoyment; and I got -- I know not how -- I got into the heart of city life. I saw and felt London at last: I got into the Strand; I went up Cornhill; I mixed with the life passing along; I dared the perils of crossings. To do this, and to do it utterly alone, gave me, perhaps an irrational, but a real pleasure. Since those days, I have seen the West-end, the parks, the fine squares, but I love the city far better. The city seems so much more in earnest: its business, its rush, its roar, are such serious things, sights, and sounds. The city is getting its living -- the West-end but enoying its pleasure. At the West-end you may be amused, but in the city you are deeply excited.

26 February 2009

This is what I wonder. What is better. To have a job that does not require you to think often, but only do, such as my former job as a library clerk; or to have an occupation that requires you to rely on your independent intellect and where there is no guarantee that what you are doing one day will be the same as the next, such as, perhaps, a job a teacher would have.

This is the thought I have while reading a book (Virginia Woolf's Flush, a biography on Elizabeth Barrett's dog) which I have to give a presentation on tomorrow in class.

I have come to an impasse. I do not know what I want to do with my life. I thought I would want to be a professor, but for various reasons which I have in some manner already written about on here, I am no longer so sure.

For me, both conditions that I stated are not good for me. I don't want a mindless job that is safe and secure but I also don't want the total uncertainty of a teaching position, nor the beauocratic hassle that comes along with it. I love literature and the theatre, but to actively engage in both in an academic settle is unnerving. To depend on grades, to sit in a class for two hours, to listen to other people talk, to not be inspired, saps all the joy out of either. I guess what I mean is that I don't want to deal with the bullshit. But then life is never so easy...blah blah blah, whatever other defeatist attitude people like to make up.

Most of what I know about literature and what has helped to bring me where I am today - in grad school, in London -- are things I taught myself. All of my knowledge about Elizabeth Barrett and her husband Robert Browning I did not learn in class, but one summer when I happened upon their letters in my undergrads library where I worked. I read all of them, then biography's and Elizabeth's Aurora Leigh. I still remember lounging on my futon while doing so, a summer wind coming through my windows next to me, the sun shining in. The first book that inspired me, Jane Eyre, I read, for myself, alone, in my family's summer home near Erie. Before then, I did not care for literature. I would probably still not care for it if I had not come across it, or something like it. Although I had read Austen's Emma shortly before that which did not make me particular warm toward literature, mostly because I didn't understand what was going on --I thought Mr. Knightley and Mr. John Knightley were the same person and couldn't understand why Isabella's husband was making advances toward her sister.

What I mean to write is that my love of literature has mostly come from myself. If it wasn't for my middle school English teacher who had told us to buy one 19th century book and read it, then I would not have had Jane Eyre in my possession, but if it hadn't been my choice to read past the first page three years after I bought it (I pretended that I had read it for class) then I would never have found what I thought was my vocation in life, to explore and love literature.

I don't know what the hell I'm getting at. I should get back to reading about Elizabeth's dog.

23 February 2009

get rid of the foreigners!

Well, at least the economic downturn (recession, depression, whatever it's being called today) will allow the government to do what it's always wanted-- get rid of people it doesn't want. Don't be naive. They don't care that the british workers can't get work, or the unemployment rate before the economy officially hit the shitter wouldn't have been so high.

migrants entering britain to be halved

22 February 2009

to be someone worthwhile

I want to dye my hair bright red and get a nose ring.

I want to wear a leather jacket.

I want to spend all day reading about famous actors dead and living and not have to read anything for class.

I want to go to the theatre to see musicals, plays, ballets, and symphonies.

I want to laugh and have fun people around me.

I want to be fun & witty & serious.

I don't want to be alone.

I want to be someone it seems I'm not, but maybe, somewhere inside, I am.


During a celebration for Olivier's eightyth something birthday.

Richard Eyre: "Joan made several attempts to lead him out but he was not going to be led. The applause went on and on. And on. The audience would happily have stayed for an hour. On his way to the stage door he was lured, without much protest, at least from him, through the Green Room on to a balcony above the street, still packed with a mass of fans and photographers. They shouted, whistled, and applauded, and when he left he seemed to be crying, certain that this was the last time he'd hear such a sound, his life's music." 490 - 91

As Eyre saw it, it wasn't necessarily that Olivier was the greatest actor of his time. He simply satisfied a desire for actors to be larger than life, and to be able to be seen to be acting at the same time as they were moving an audience to tears or to laughter. 'It's the desire to be knowingly seduced...People want greatness, glory, to be bigger, more extreme, more daring, more physical than their own lives...It's impossible, for a catalogue of reasons to do with finance, the structure of the film industry and the theatre, the spirit of the age and the taste of the times, that we will ever again see a great buccaneering actor-manager, who is also a Hollywood film star, who is equally celebrated in the theatre, and who is capable of remaking his life and art so often and so judiciously as he did. It's said, "Happy the land that needs no heroes." Happier perhaps, but duller, certainly. 491

21 February 2009

Laurence Olivier...

In later years.

Joan [Olivier's wife] remembers that at one such awards evening they were in a box when Dennis Quilley and Peter Bowles did a turn from The Entertainer. 'The audience applauded and Larry got up and bowed. One had to keep hold of him. If he heard applause he thought he ought to get up and take a bow.' 483


That is just too awesome.

17 February 2009

group discussions & teaching

I am hesitant about copying this here as it comes from a professional writers Web site, but I am very very excited that he has written this, I don't want to forget it, and I would like some of you who still read this blog to read it yourself because (a) it is what I am going through as a student in discussion style group teaching and (b) it is how I feel about proper teaching and the proper role of a teacher.

I also encourage you to check out his other postings. I've been following him for a year. He's an original thinker -- but not in a pompous showy sort of way.


Art talk makes me uncomfortable.
It’s better to have different kinds of artists in a room.
Different kinds of people in a room, for that matter.
That’s my feeling.
Put a writer in a room with a sculptor and a bricklayer and a whore.
Put an actor in a room with violinist and a chemist and a eunuch and a Navy SEAL.
Turn the cameras on.
See what happens.
Too many of the same kind is toxic.
Group think.
There’s nothing worse than a roomful of writers sitting around talking about writing.
Just my feeling.
I’m a hypocrite in saying this, of course, as I teach creative writing and moderate such rooms all the time.
But I like to think I do it with a certain measure of self-awareness and restraint.
I like to think I’m aware of the danger.
I have a pretty low opinion of myself as a teacher.
I’m more of a tour guide and a grunt laborer.
That’s how I view the job.
It’s a service position.
Nothing “executive” about it.
Less Yoda, more R2D2.
This, to me, is central to any kind of managerial role, any kind of educational or executive role.
It’s service, at the end of the day.
I work for my students.


You poison everything you touch.
You kill the greater organism.
But if you’re a boss, and you start from the premise that you work for the people who work for you, you’re likely going to be much more effective.
It’s about service.
It’s about being a white blood cell, 92.4% of the time.
It’s about how can I help.
It’s not that simple.
But really it kind of is.
I always tell my students that they’re not allowed to talk about their processes.
Their creative processes.
My process….
Learning how to deal with my process….
I tell them if they ever start talking about their “process” in my class, they’ll get an F-minus.
Not even an F.
An F-minus.
I’m sort of kidding when I say that.
I’m not actually gonna give them an F, but I really don’t want them to talk about it.
And it’s hard to be in a creative writing workshop and not use the word “process.”
Try it sometime over a 16-week semester.
It’s annoying.
Even I wind up saying it on occasion.
I’ll slip up.
Catch myself.
Castigate myself in front of the class.


And then he goes onto something entirely different, as he generally does.

Art should be discussed, but it should also be regulated. That is the role of an instructor, I feel. Not a role that many of my professor necessarily understand or feel compelled to enact, and even one professor in particular who is rather better than the rest, I would have to pompously remark is not terribly good at leading discussion either. She spends a great deal of time talking about issues, which I enjoy, but when it comes time to have the students talk, it all sort of veers off into no mans land. It is difficult, no doubt. But I've had instructors who are able to do it quite brilliantly and am a bit confused as to why so many of my grad professors find it so difficult.

Self-importance. Brad points out. It is something which is prevalent like the black death in discussion lead classes. There is always one or more student who spend most of class tooting his own horn. One girl in particular in one of my classes not only spends a great deal of time arguing against whatever is being proposed by another student and likes to relate any discussion to personal theses of past and present. Relating to Brad's refusal to allow his students to discuss their creative processes.

If you are going to have a discussion based class you must have some sort of lecture that will guide the students to broaden their own understanding of the issues and weed out any discussion of their ego-centric feelings on the subjects. I don't care where you are -- undergrad, post grad, phd -- there is always time for improvement, and the best teachers, and the best classes, are those where the student is demanded to not merely reiterate his/hers own views, but expand them or alter them altogether -- to see another side of the issue.

This is as important, if not more so, than teaching a student the skills of arguing with others about issues. You have to have a good understanding of the issues, their varied properties, before properly arguing about them. But my classes rely on students to only regurgitate what they were taught in undergrad. And it is infuriating to witness, although I feel like I am certainly learning what not to do when (if) I become a professor.

14 February 2009

why I am unhappy

To lighten the mood before proceeding into the dark and tormenting, I shall post

Sorry, that was wasted on people who don't watch top gear.

extracts from a letter I wrote to a friend tonight. Weirdly enough putting them here so that I can remember why I feel the way I do. -- have you ever had that? You feel upset and then you strike it on the head why you do and then you forget what you were angry about. I do all the time. i think it is b/c I'm not entirely emotionally alert. I try to hide the fact that I'm unhappy and so I repress why it is I am. I feel sometimes like I'm walking around in a daze of anger and sadness.

(Not that I'm always unhappy. But you know how it is. We all have moments of unhappiness that linger, forever shadowing even the happiest of moments just a little).

Everyone around me is so unhappy. It is hard to be happy when you have no one to be happy with, especially when all those who you do have in your life are so unhappy themselves.

And me. I'm pissed off at me. I'm pissed off that I find it so difficult to like people. I have such an immense hatred of people right now. I cringe when I walk in the kitchen and someone is in there. My flat mates are all nice to me but I hate the stupid little chit-chat you have to make up -- how's your day, what are you doing....

And the students in my class, with their know-it-all mechanical responses, and instructors who (even 18th century lit) are not inspiring enough for me. I feel like I need too much, but I can't help that what I have in front of me isn't good enough. I struggle b/w trying to find what I want and trying to get something out of what I have. And this has been for too long. I moved to bloody London! to find something new -- something more rewarding -- and I feel more dead than ever.

And I hate more than anything having to write these things.

11 February 2009

old and new

Since tonight is sleeping pill night (one day a week I take sleeping pills at 8:00 so that I wake up at a decent time the next day and hopefully keep up such a schedule for the rest of the week) I'm going to hastily write this blog.

Here's a snippet from Olivier the biography by Terry Coleman which I quite (sentimentally) liked.

"...some people, surrounded by mirrors and a myriad reflections, don't count for very much, yet one man, with no mirrors at all, standing on a totally empty stage, can mean everything." 440



-- Woke at 12:00 after unsuccessfully waking for my alarm at 7:00, 8:00, 9:00, or 11:00
-- Went to see Breakfast at Tiffany's at the BFI. Delightful to see a well-beloved old movie on a movie screen just as it would have been seen in the '50's when it first premiered.

-- Went to Caffe Nero, had a panini, drank small breakfast tea, and read Olivier


-- Going to take a shower
-- Eat a Sundae and watch Lark Rise to Candleford
-- Take two sleeping pills, read The London Lite, and the London Paper, and (hopefully) go to sleep early and get up tomorrow morning at 7:00

10 February 2009

I can't even think of a title, I'm too excited

This is just too good. My fave-fave-favourite musical piece from Doctor Who, live at the Royal Albert Hall in London. It gets me every time.

Press the far right arrow on the bottom of the screen and then press HQ for high quality. Much better this way.

08 February 2009

05 February 2009

the state of Helen

So I haven't been feeling very well lately. It seems once things calm down for me, I get restless, which then turns into depression, which then turns into me being a slug, not doing anything but watching EastEnders while trying to forget that I have to read a book for tomorrow's class that I haven't yet begun.

I don't know what it is that makes me this way.

In other ways I'm very happy. I went to a lecture last night at the National Theatre on a new biography about Casanova that one of the actors in a current production there gave. Bought the book; got it signed. Also bought tickets for three movies that the BFI is playing over the next two weeks. Next week I'm going to see Breakfast at Tiffany's and Some Like it Hot . The former I've seen many times but think it'll be really cool to see it on a big screen. The latter I've only seen scenes from. The following week I'm seeing Lolita which I have never seen, not even read the book.

However, my classes are really depressing and I'm rather lonely. It's not just friends but I really want a man friend, if you get what I mean, but whereas I had guys chasing me back home (usually weird stalkerish guys, though) I haven't had so much as a guy give me a one-over here.

And It's been very grey and rainy/snowy here. One day a week of sun is a little unnerving.

So this is me at the moment. At least I'm not ranting and raving as I did last semester. I'm pretty solemn this semester. Just chillin' out, waiting for something to happen.

02 February 2009

Here comes the snow da, da, da-da

If you haven't heard, Britain got a lot of snow last night. It started about 5:00 and hasn't stopped since. There is no bus service in London, and most of the tube is non-operational. This was the sign on every door in my residence:

So what did I do? Well, took a walk around London of course!

Here's some things. Not much commentary. Want to get these pictures up so I can read on my window while it's snowing out. (No class for me today. Cancelled. Yeah!!!! Snow day. I did get that flutter in my stomach that I used to get as a kid when school was called off).

Okay. So this -- is awesome! It is a big crude, I suppose, but to me, very very funny.

It's a penis snowman! I watched some of my male residence mates put it together while making breakfast this morning.

On the South Bank. Big Ben in the background.

Nelson's column and the National Gallery

National Gallery

South Bank from Waterloo Bridge

Little figures near Westminster Bridge

Mini Parliament

Real Parliament

Known for their artistic excellence, The National Theatre was not going to loose out on this opportunity.

Olivier seems to be enjoying the snow.

Parliament from Westminster Bridge

From Waterloo Bridge

01 February 2009

bring out the leather

Now what is this? Promotional pictures for the next Doctor Who?

A few months ago I wrote about the british phenomenon of the sixties called The Avengers, featuring Diana Rigg as Emma Peel -- the second actress to act as companion to the secret agent Steed, played by Patrick Macnee throughout the duration of the run. Frequently clad entirely in leather, Emma Peel subsequently became a symbol of feminine independence, keen fashion sense, and sexual frankness.

Was it any coincidence that she often found herself handcuffed and gagged? Such scenes, when transported to American television, were edited out of the episodes.

Her wardrobe contrasted with that of the quiet dandy Steed who was always clad in a suit coat and bowler hat. As with their clothes, both characters assumed a role unique for their time. Emma the progressive; Steed the old-fashioned.

Doctor Who, of course, also originated in the 60's, and often ran at the same time as The Avengers, and as both feature a man and a woman fighting evil -- whether monsters or human beings -- the two shows were inevitably compared. They both engendered a similar cult status, representing the changing times in British society. So it was with little surprise that I should see the main characters next companion on Doctor Who clad entirely in leather (as she is, though the pictures only show so much) beside the anachronistically clothed 21st century doctor. Pastiche has become a mainstay of post-modern life for those who argue that originality no longer exists, that all artistic endeavours are simply an imitation of forms that precede it.

I'll be waiting for the handcuffs.