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No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

A while back I introduced Woman A to Woman B because they have a shared interest in the cute and cuddly variety of animal life. Since then I discovered that Woman B is a nosy gossip and that I had a crush on Woman A. I told Woman A and she blew me off hard, which was disappointing but I can deal with it, and now I'm stuck in a waiting out period to see if Woman A tells Woman B, which would lead to a lot of our classmates knowing (Woman B and I are classmates and Woman A and I are in a student organization together).

I realize that most guys wouldn't lose sleep over this, but I have some bad experiences with women's indiscretion, mostly involving women showing my love letters/poetry to people and mocking me about them. Which is obviously why I don't write them anymore.

I guess I'll find out Thursday, which is when Woman B and I have class together, if there's any fall out.


Oh, the liberty...

The English system of graduate school is so informal sometimes I find myself floundering for lack of structure, and being in a creative writing program brings it out even more. I hear in Cambridge all you need to do to get a MA is hang around for three years, paying out money all the time, I'm sure, as opposed to Exeter where you get it in one year of actual work.

And researching a paper is a little like finding Mrs. Right. You may not find out if a promising book is any good for you until after you're read it, and if it isn't, have you wasted your time?


Nov. 6th, 2014

I had confided some information in someone who I thought I was becoming close to, and within a day accidentally discovered that she'd already blabbed. I could tell because I saw the look on the face of the person we had been talking about when he looked at me, and later I saw them leave together chatting away. Fortunately I hadn't said anything bad about him as a person, just about a couple of things he did that had made me uncomfortable, but I find myself having trouble processing the disappointment in the person I had told. I'm not angry because people do gossip and no one is in trouble over it, but I don't feel like I can confront her about it either. She might admit it or deny it, but I don't expect her to change because of it. I suspect telling her I know she blabbed would cause more drama than it is worth; I admit I have developed a policy with women in argumentative social situations of letting them have the last word because if I don't they might go and have the last word with all of my friends. I've been on the bad end of gossip before, and I'd rather let them win a private argument than end up in a public spectacle.

But I don't stay friends with women like that; I don't stay friends with men who can't handle losing arguments either, but the consequences are different and I am, by social conditioning, better trained to handle those men so worry about them less.

Oct. 29th, 2014

“On a Lone Duck” by Xiao Gang

It dives in shallows for beakfuls of moss,
Heads to sandy isles to preen its feathers.
Ready to fly off all by itself,
It finds its reflection and stays.

Commentary by Xiaofei Tian:

“The last line contains an unsolvable paradox: the poet suggests that the discovery of its own reflection prompts the duck to stay, and yet, its staying conditions the existence of the reflection. This illusions of having a companion (that is, its own reflection in the water) gives rise to fond attachment, but the attachment itself turns out to be the raison d’etre for the illusion and its preservation. Cause and effect become hopelessly entangled.”

As from the word “unsolvable,” I found this analysis interesting and proof that I read poetry too quickly to understand it. I don’t think it is necessary to call this kind of paradox “unsolvable” because there is no need for a solution: the paradox is the point.

It is hard to say how much it applies to the human condition because it is very hard to look at one’s own life and figure out how much of it you truly understood. Apparently the Duck Dynasty is so fond of its own reflection they are incapable of understanding why they turn so many people off, but that doesn’t do my life any good.

I do think imposing my own reflections, so to speak, has been a problem for my romantic life. I’m nice to her, she’s nice to me, I figure we go from there. But as it turns out those are the rules for American friendships, not romance. Don’t ask me about the rules for romance; when I read the chapter headings to “The Rules” I found about a third of them repulsive, a third of them sensible, and a third of them I’ll reserve judgment upon until I actually get around to reading the book.

And let’s face it, the only books that are fun for me to write are ones that I would enjoy reading, and that’s not a guide to blockbuster success. I heard James Patterson used to be an ad executive and actually did research on what people want to read and wrote that; apparently it worked pretty well for him. Have I just talked myself into arguing that James Patterson is a Buddha hiding in plain sight?

Recently Reading

Two books I've been reading I'd like to recommend. One is an assigned reading, "Story: Substance, structure, style, and the principles of screenwriting," by Robert McKee. He basically looks at how conflict, resistance, and barriers provide the pulse of any plot, any genre. The problems might be different in an art house film than a Hollywood blockbuster, but the principle is the same.

The other is "Writing Women in Late Imperial China." It's been very useful research for my Asian fantasy series. Since the Chinese administrative class was the best educated in the world at that time, they expected their wives and daughters, concubines and courtesans, to be literate companions. Being a good artist was a good marketing strategy for women, whether they looked for husbands or customers. And since a courtesan could become a concubine who could become a wife, it was a primary source of upward mobility for poor women. A Chinese woman poet could have been writing about society with a wider experience of the world than the English novels of that time, or at least more than Austen admitted to in her novels.

And I do believe I am writing some of my best poetry now, thanks to Andy Brown's exercises, teaching us how to write poetry instead of just essays that rhyme:

My Senior Year

A pre-dented four wheel tank,
Blue inside and out.
The ceiling is a little ratty,
Some of the soft tissue stapled into place.

I turn the silvery key
And 7 ½ cylinders roar.
The A/C stinks like an over chlorinated pool
So I flip it off and roll down a squeaky window.

Hard to park, hard to steer,
But we head up hills like a champ.
Over the engine I play “Tears for Fears,”
My favorite band to disagree with.

I pick up our glorious leader
Always the man with the plan.
And I pick up the rich boy
In country western gear
With his fragile girlfriend
Who is everyone’s sweet princess.

And I pick up her best friend
Who is everyone’s advice show hostess
And her boyfriend who jokes and joshes

And the girls sit on laps so I can pick up
The guitarist who sounds so sarcastic
Even when he’s serious and hates it.

And we drive to the late night movies
Or early morning gaming sessions
Or all hours diners
Or any excuse to be away
And together.


Oct. 9th, 2014

Aside from the hoops I have to jump through to get money over to England and the predictable recreation of my normal social life, live is going well. I'm getting to the gym three times a week and my professors have useful. In my last writing class I spent as much ink writing down ideas for my books based on his explanations of plotting in general as I did writing down what he said. My poetry professor also has a knack for giving us exercises that help out. Compared to my new poems, my old poems were essays that rhymed.

Since we have a lot of time to choose our own books to read, I've been reading Edna St. Vincent Millay, who wrote some very good poetry about not fitting in with society, and "Grimoires: A History of Magic Books," which pretty much proves a belief in magic has been far more widespread and consistent in history than I thought. I had no idea so many people were making so much money off so many more people willing to buy spells, potions, and books. In 1943 there were 80,000 fortune tellers making a living in the USA alone.


Edna St. Vincent Millay

Stranger, pause and look;
From the dust of ages
Lift this little book,
Turn the tattered pages,
Read me, do not let me die!
Search the fading letters, finding
Steadfast in the broken binding
All that once was I!

From the “Collected Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay”

Millay has a way of hitting things on the nose. I’m really enjoying her “Collected Poems” and am reading on the side “Millay at 100: A Critical Reappraisal” as a part of grad school strategy to not only read more poetry but to figure out how to read (and understand) it. Meanwhile I’ve snatched up two stanzas from her poems to kick start two of my own novels (attributed, of course).

The first essay in “Millay at 100” argues that she is underappreciated in the sense that critics don’t think she’s worth the time to analysis but academics apparently enjoy quoting her. Perhaps that a good sign that her poetry is well written, evocative, and easy to understand. For most people ease of understanding is a sign of good writing, but I suppose critics need difficult writers to justify their profession.

I chose this quotation above because it speaks to me personally, and to anyone else out there being an author, regardless of your publishing success. Anyone’s work could, basically, molder away, become an “ex-poem” in the sense that no one reads it anymore. The statistical chance of anyone achieving the literary longevity of Austen or Dickens is depressingly low, and probably getting lower with 3000 new published books each year crowding for attention, drowning each other out.

Sep. 27th, 2014

The weird thing about graduate school in England is how open ended they are things. The list of suggested readings is easily twice as long as assigned readings, and it is rather up to us how much work we want to put into things here. They are depending upon our personal interest to motivate us much more than my American professors.

And this isn't necessarily a problem. I've written thousands of words of my fiction since I arrived (I'm in a creative writing program) and even read one of the books on the suggested list another with another book I found in a used bookstore. The ironic thing about "Strong Words" is that it is a collection of essays about writing poetry (by poets) and one of the most common bits of advice is to stop reading essays about poetry and just read poetry.

I've made two new friends, both of them graduates of Nanjing University. I spent half of last Friday with one of them, chatting about family, "Dreams of Red Mansions," and life in England, and then after dinner we went to a debate about if there is life on other worlds.


Sep. 23rd, 2014

I should have known better than to go to a big party, with all the alcohol and loud music. I did manage to find one woman who was really to talk to someone who wasn't drinking and we were having a nice conversation about Kant, Hegel, and Marx until a more charming guy slipped in and slide lined me.

I spent the rest of the evening back flashing to when I was an undergraduate and women blew me off because I'm shy and don't like drinking. All those old memories and feelings are probably the biggest reason I put off going back to college; I just couldn't handle the idea of going back to having most women treat me like a piece of furniture because I like books more than beer.

Sep. 20th, 2014

September 18, 2014
I saw a hot girl in dire need of help carrying groceries, and in helping her carry them discovered she only lives two doors down from me in the graduate dorm. She’s from Beijing, so I told her if she ever cooks too much Chinese food she should knock on my door. I’ll resist the temptation to pester her and wait to see if she was sufficiently impressed with my Chinese conversational skills to take me up on the offer.

She’s actually the fourth Chinese acquaintance I made just today. One of them is in my department. Two other women struck up conversations with me because they had remembered me from Nanjing University. They had been students in different departments but they remembered seeing me around campus. I think my life in Exeter could have almost as many Chinese friends as my life in Nanjing.

September 20, 2014

I’m still struggling on and off to get my American service provides in a line. My bank and my cell phone service both failed me. I never thought I’d say this, but thank goodness for credit cards. America is just too insular; the companies assume we never leave. To be fair, Americans travel less than people from any other industrial nation.

We had our student activities fair. I signed up for the creative writing, debate, and chess societies, and I’m looking forward to all of them. I thought about signing up for one of the societies interested in Asia, but there were too many to choose from: Thailand, China, Japan, and others I’m more likely to misspell.

I finally made it up “cardio hill” without having to stop, but I did take a brief break at the top before moving on to my destination.

I had to go to four different stores today, since the British don’t seem to believe in one stop shopping. Fortunately the university is within walking distance of the main shopping area, so in the end it was all just more exercise.




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