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BY Joel

03/01 Direct Link
The guy sitting next to me has duct-taped a big, white drafting eraser to the end of his mechanical pencil.

Our professor hands back our papers. I read the comments she's written on the Works Cited page and learn that my paper is "a list rather than an argumentative essay" and that while it is well written, it only merits a B+.

Must we always strive for new thought? What if existing thoughts are more than enough?

At home, I duct-tape an eraser to a mechanical pencil, change the B to an A, and cover her words with dicks.
03/02 Direct Link
No, I don't. I do genuinely admire the eraser, but I'm not so immature that I respond to a such situation with phallic graffiti. I put very little effort into the essay - I mean, list - after all. I was lucky to get a B+. The truth is that I know what professors are asking for in an English paper and also that I'm tired of giving it to them. I could never be a professional scholar. I'm not even sure I want to be a teacher anymore.

On my lunch break I eat pizza and sulk over an increasingly uncertain future.
03/03 Direct Link
On the second and third floors of the new library, the west walls are high windows, each lined with a row of big, cozy chairs. This is where I like to study on my lunch break. The view is spectacular: the clock tower, the trees, the old library (which is still the best for night studying), the clouds, the myriad of people walking along the plaza, seagulls, the fountain... The afternoon light floats in, and the silence is hardly disturbed by the occasional sound of a turned page and the soft tic-tic-tic of people working on their laptops.
03/04 Direct Link
I can't focus on reading, so I close the book and welcome the openness of the big window.

There is much beauty hidden in the mad poetry of Sylvia Plath, but after having studied Philip Larkin for the same class, all I can see is the negativity, the dangerous and ugly romanticizing of despair. There is much more to life than this, and so I lift my chin to remind myself.

Below, students walk past and I'm critical of all their skinny jeans and oversized sunglasses, boots and headphones.

This poetry gets into me. I just don't want it anymore.
03/05 Direct Link
I shouldn't be so harsh about headphones.

And I shouldn't be sitting here any longer. Not today. If I'm to make it through poetry class this afternoon, I'll have to go do something that will refresh me.

In the middle of campus, beside the clock tower, there is an oasis - a decent cluster of tall cedars and other conifers that shroud a path bordered with shrubs and wildflowers. I can see it from where I'm sitting, and somehow it's calling out to me, so I stand up, put the book in my backpack, put on my jacket, and head outside.
03/06 Direct Link
From my spot in the dirt, I can look up through the branches of the trees and see my library window and imagine my chair behind the glare of the sun.

Who do I think I am, sitting here on the damp earth, pretending to be something I'm not? I'm no squirrel.

I'm not a tiny pine cone. I'm not a fractal fern frond. I'm not a beetle carcass. I'm not a lichen. I'm not a twig. I'm not a rock...

I arrange these objects in a circle in front of me and suddenly it's a mouth: Get over yourself.
03/07 Direct Link
I choose a seat near the window. From here I can distract myself by looking out into the courtyard, the deep green heart of these gray Arts buildings. Sometime last month I started the habit of bringing a thermos of tea to this class. This, too, is a good distraction: at the beginning of the hour, the tea is too hot to drink; ten minutes pass and I can take small sips without burning my tongue; ten more go by to allow for mouthfuls that I ration throughout the next half hour. I have no tea today. Get over yourself.
03/08 Direct Link
On the second or third day of class, this professor confesses to the class that he loves, but doesn't like, his son. He says that if he wasn't his son, he probably wouldn't want anything to do with him. He uses this as an example to give us an idea of what Larkin's poetry is all about - the awkward, profoundly depressing, yet wholly valid aspects of the human experience of the real.

On the fourth or fifth day, this professor mentions offhandedly that he's currently on his third marriage.

He laughed after both admissions. I didn't know how to react.
03/09 Direct Link
A few of us have made the solemn walk from door to desk and now we're sitting, scattered in isolation around the room, silent and waiting.

I think of what it must be like to be a student of something other than literature.

I let my mind wander into the halls of the science buildings, of the new engineering complex. It peeks into labs and sees students in white coats and goggles, working together to illuminate formulas unimaginable to me. Their parabolas are half full. In a few years they'll be rich and they'll celebrate their successes together on boats.
03/10 Direct Link
He walks in, lifts his salt-and-peppered chin to us and smiles. He sets his briefcase on the front table, takes off his black wool coat, and puts hangs it over a chair. It's always some variation on this shirt. Today the button up is made of blue silk and it's tucked just like the others: too loosely into faded black jeans. His boots, his belt buckle, his baldness, his bifocals - he might have been handsome (sexy, even) in the 80's. In truth I know nearly nothing about the man but he loves cynical overanalysis, so he'd appreciate this.
03/11 Direct Link
He begins the class by looking at Plath's 'Amnesiac,' and before we move onto the next poem, he feels the need to apply the title to the whole of society:

"And in a way, we are living in an amnesiac world, aren't we? This is exactly the kind of thing that Plath was trying to get at through her poetry." He nods his head, agreeing with himself.

It might be true that this was one of Plath's main concerns, but I don't think it applies to this particular poem.

I raise my hand reluctantly. This can't go on any longer.
03/12 Direct Link
"Yeah," he says, gesturing to me.

"I'm interested in this idea of an amnesiac society," I begin. "I mean, isn't a certain level of amnesia required of us in order for us to deal with reality?"

He chuckles, perhaps knowing what's coming.

"I don't know," I continue, "but I've been reading these poems at seems like reading Plath's poetry is like witnessing a degeneration. She seems to have allowed herself to stay in the dark parts of her mind for too long. So long that she's built a complex in her brain and now she can't stop her negative thinking."
03/13 Direct Link
I haven't finished:

"You know, even Larkin. His poetry is so depressing, and, you know, I see this picture of him on the cover of my text, and he just looks so... sullen. I guess what I'm trying to say here is that maybe a certain amount of amnesia is required of us. You know, what happens if we don't forget? Maybe it comes to the point when you can't forget, and if we think about how Plath's life ended, you know, this becomes almost frightening."

After my half-coherent monologue, I shift uncomfortably in my seat, flushed, slightly trembling.
03/14 Direct Link
The students in front who had turned to watch me theorize have turned back around and are now waiting for the professor's response.

"Your questions are valid," he says, "but I can assure you that reading these poems won't make you crazy. I've been teaching Plath for over 20 years now and I haven't yet slit my wrists. In fact, I have a very happy life. I do. You know, some people look at Larkin or Plath and they think that these are people that probably would have benefitted from taking Prozac, had the drug been around during their lifetimes."
03/15 Direct Link
"Yes," he says, gesturing toward an overweight girl sitting in the row in front of me, a little to the left. She has unstylishly long red hair that rapunzels down to the floor behind her desk.

"I'd like to make a comment in response to the one that was just made. I think too often in modern day society people subscribe to this cult of positive thinking, and it makes them blind to the problems of the world. It's the kind of unhealthy denial that I think both Larkin and Plath are trying to get away from in their poetry."
03/16 Direct Link
He has been listening, nodding in rhythm to her words that undulate from the back of her head.

I could defend myself and say that I didn't quite shout "Chin up, Sylvia!" or recommend that we all keep on the sunny side of life, that I was just questioning the value of constantly stewing in our own nightmares, but I've said enough already. Besides, the prof has already started talking about Greek tragedies, about how human misery has always been worthy of our study.

Heads bobble around the room. I wonder how many of them will wind up in ovens.
03/17 Direct Link
Or maybe it's me who's being unreasonable. This is highly probable, but I can't help but feel that I'm right when a few minutes later the prof says:

"It's one thing when you realize the violence that exists in the minds of so many around you, but quite another when you realize that the violence has somehow entered yours and you can't get it out. Then suicide becomes the only rational decision."

I want to rage to the door and shout, "Just do it, asshole!" from the hallway. Instead I rest my head on my hand and consult the window.
03/18 Direct Link
And I find that the fine hairs on my knuckles are prisms.

The afternoon sun, streaming in through these high south-facing windows, has set my hand on rainbow fire. I would not have noticed if I hadn't set my chin on my palm and curled my fingers up toward my eye. By chance.

I close my eyes, imagine the nude body of a young man stretched out on a Wreck Beach log, his breath rolling in and out with the sparkling waves. Dragonflies zoom above and around him, their tiny eyes marvelling at his iridescence.

Is everything simply light?
03/19 Direct Link
I ride home through the sunshine on my bike, thinking about Plath's preoccupation with WWII, about the professor's reproof of the engineers who create weapons:

"We should take a field trip over to the Engineering department and ask them what goes on in their minds. I mean, why do they make this stuff?"

It's a fair question, but I'm beginning to realize that just as there is unethical science, there is unethical art.

For me, unethical art is that which doesn't leave its audience with any hope. Artists have a responsibility to transform their pain into beauty, not more pain.
03/20 Direct Link
In a few weeks, I will hand in my term paper to this professor, and its content will be a reformulation of what I have written here.

In a few weeks and a day, I will regret my decision to be so outspoken about this poetry that he has spent a good part of his life studying. I will send him an email, apologizing for my inability to be objective, and asking him for help about how I might better approach the texts.

In a few weeks and two, three, four... days, I will still not have received a response.
03/21 Direct Link
Why couldn't he have emailed me back? Why couldn't I have chosen to write about something more neutral, like "Irony in the Poetic Works of Philip Larkin?" Who do I think I am?

In truth I don't really know, and so I skip the next couple of poetry classes, using the hour to catch up on sleep instead, secretly hoping that he'll miss seeing me in class and eventually send me an encouraging email.

He doesn't, and I succumb to the fear of failure (I will die if I have to endure another semester) resolving to return to his class.
03/22 Direct Link
At least we're studying a new poet now. Margaret Atwood. Many people don't like her, but I've enjoyed everything that I've read of hers. Maybe it's because she's an environmentalist, a feminist, a Canadian. Or maybe it's because she and I have very similar bone structure - at least we do when I flare my nostrils and draw my facial muscles into a low and tight half smile. I can parody her voice pretty well, too. Every Halloween I'm tempted to get a frizzy black wig and become her, but I worry that no one would find it funny but me.
03/23 Direct Link
I can't look at this man in the face, so I sit in the back corner beside the window and pull my hood up. For the rest of the class my eyes trace a triangle between my notebook, my Atwood anthology, and the gray day beyond the glass. But I listen to his lecture, genuinely interested.

He tells us anecdotes about his son, tells us that they have been going to hockey games together recently. He tells us that his first two marriages lasted about 20 years each.

He's torturing me, this man. I wish he'd reply to my email.
03/24 Direct Link
We get our essays back a week later. Before he hands them out, he teases us, saying that some of them were really shitty. Then he belly laughs, says he's just kidding. Torturer. He tells us not to feel bad for not liking Philip or Sylvia, that it's acceptable to distrust their views of reality.

I get an A- and a few comments telling me that I'm probably right to classify Larkin as an existentialist. I see no comments about my email.

An A- for being an existentialist. We know nothing and everything about each other, this man and me.
03/25 Direct Link
At home things are less complicated. After class I ride my bike ten minutes back to our little place beside the forest. Usually I have a short nap and then tidy up, open the curtains to the sunshine and the pink cherry blossom tree across the street, air the place out, do the dishes so we can cook in a clean kitchen. I like to be in the kitchen when David comes home from work, chopping something. He'll rest a bit and then help me finish preparing our meal. We eat well, talk, watch TV, paint, maybe smoke a joint.
03/26 Direct Link
The plan is to move to Ontario at the end of the summer, my degree tucked under one arm. I'm going to find a job that's not so intensely mind consuming for a while, like waiting tables. I've always wanted to try that.

We have so much planning to do and I worry about it not being a good decision in the first place. But I'm going to take the leap. Even if his mother and I wind up hating each other, we'll probably have a dog. There will still be blue jays and stargazing every night beside the lake.
03/27 Direct Link
I'm sorry if you read all of this month's previous entries expecting a satisfying conclusion to the whole school ordeal. I thought of making up a scandalous ending in which my professor and I end up having hot, wet sex in his office, but I prefer the truth. The truth will be that I put a strong effort into my term paper on our last studied poet, Derek Walcott, and my professor will give me a decent mark on it.

In a few years, when life seems much more manageable, I'll reopen my Larkin and Plath collections, embrace them wholly.
03/28 Direct Link
Tie two kites together on a windy day and they'll have a burst of fun together upon their release. But their flight will be short-lived. Eventually the strings will tangle and twist and the competition of the sails will send them spiralling, crashing.

Better to entrust your string not to another kite but to someone with a reel, a boy who can show you what it's like to be a boy, who will look up to you in admiration of the kite tricks he has partly made his own.

Sail long and steady, flying and grounded all at once.
03/29 Direct Link
Misrepresented

Walk westward on Davie from Granville Street in Vancouver and soon you'll find yourself in the gay village. Rainbow banners on streetlights, men holding hands, a new community garden, and most recently, in the window of the Priape sex shop, a couple of mannequins wearing gasmasks and rubber. Above them, suspended from the ceiling like party lanterns, are about a dozen clear plastic bags filled with urine. Well, it's probably water and food colouring, but the viewer knows to interpret it as piss.

I have never seen anything so disgusting. Never have I felt so ashamed of my homosexuality.
03/30 Direct Link
Fill up a bathtub with a month's worth of pee and get busy in it all you like in the privacy of your own home, but don't be flaunting your obvious immature outdated deviance front-and-centre in a well-lit window on a busy street! This is just going to fuel hatred toward homosexuality and justify people taking away our rights. At the very least, it will prevent people from bringing their children into our community.

I don't want to have to deal with this, but I worry that if I don't, no one else will. What to do?
03/31 Direct Link
Song of the Ranger

Geeky hat
Geeky sunglasses
Geeky badge
Geeky belt
Geeky shorts
Geeky knees
Geeky socks
Geeky boots

Pretty trail
Pretty snail
Pretty green
Pretty scene

Radio it in
Radio it in
Radio it in
Radio it in

Sun on the skin
Sun on the skin
Sun on the skin
Sun on the skin

Scare the bear
Scare the bear
Scare the bear
Scare the bear

Stump for a chair
Stump for a chair
Stump for a chair
Stump for a chair

The birds
The birds
The birds
The birds
The birds
The birds
The birds
The birds