A lot is conveyed through language. You don’t need me to tell you that. Because many of us rely on speech in our interactions with others, we often exploit it to form assumptions about them. Our perceived answers to “How well does this person articulate their ideas?” informs us (although erroneously at times) about this person’s, say, sociocultural background, and it’s thinking about some answers that people probably conjure for me that’s got me feeling down lately. Maybe more than usual.
This is what happens when I speak (especially in class when there are dozens of eyes on me or even one-on-one with a professor when I’m obviously the ignorant one in the situation): I open my mouth; one or two words escape; my brain divides into two parts, one that thinks about what I am going to say next, and the other that thinks, “Does this person think I’m stupid? Is what I’m saying stupid? Does this person think I’m stupid? And if I am stupid, will I always be stupid? Does this person think I’m stupid? Will I forever be saying stupid stuff to brilliant people who can see how stupid I am?”; I stumble on my words; the latter part of my brain seizes the controls over the former; my brain shuts down; and everything goes blank. The desire to communicate my opinions becomes eclipsed by a suddenly urgent need to salvage my sentence on some half-decent note.
Nearing the end of September, Almighty Chem Wizard*, Alex, and I attended this special Writers Fest event at the Chan Centre, which featured author Salman Rushdie in conversation with Hal Wake. (I know, I can barely believe Rushdie was in Vancouver too, and I was freaking there!) After the event, when we were gushing about how intelligent and humorous and profound this guy was, Alex said, “He’s cool because he’s at this level where he talks as well as he writes. It’s like you’re listening to someone write right in front of you.”
I never wanted so much in that moment to be able to do just that, to take all of what I loved best about reading–the diction, the clauses, the syntax–how the careful organization of each of them, and sometimes the deliberate misuse of them, can elicit such intense emotion and debate in and among us–and be able to churn it out so spontaneously, offer it in a medium so tenuous–literally mere reverberations of air–that people would be forced to pay attention to it in a way that’s impossible with text. Much as I love the printed word, there’s something to be said for a form of art that can’t be skimmed, that requires real-time engagement, because it’s not like you can rewind speaking, at the minutest level, a word and have the person not yet hear it.
Long, long ago, I watched a documentary on sand mandalas. A posh voice speaking over scenes of crouching Tibetan monks kept stressing the importance of why the mandalas would be destroyed soon after their completion, almost as if to placate the viewer who would mourn their (tragic) loss, but even as a kid I could never disapprove of the monks’ motives. There’s a lot to be said for work that endures, but the ephemerality of all the rest makes them just as beautiful and just as meaningful, don’t you think? Because when they’re gone, that’s when we realize that we lived in that special, almost miraculous moment in which both our existences collided, and no one else will ever have that experience ever again. And although it’s sad when the things we loved aren’t here anymore, the simple fact that they evoked this pure, earnest feeling in us lends greater credence to their value.
Besides, everything eventually gets lost to the human consciousness anyways.
People are often fooled by high rhetoric. You know how in The Merchant of Venice, when Bassanio is all like, “So may the outward shows be least themselves./The world is still decided with ornament./In law, what plea so tainted and corrupt/But, being seasoned with a gracious voice,/Obscures the show of evil?” when he’s deciding on which casket to open to win Portia’s hand? I totally agree. Yet is it wrong to desperately want this power too, to be able to fool the world with my (currently non-existent) verbal prowess? I admire the people who can speak in class so effortlessly and elegantly, because to me it means that their minds also work that effortlessly and elegantly. Meanwhile, all I’m able to muster is a babble akin to some first grader describing her favourite t.v. show–all superficial: “Um, yeah, I liked the part when Franklin shared with his friend, Bear, because that was the kind thing to do.” Makes me feel like I am a first grader.
Part of what I like about writing is that I get to think it through. I can rise above, say, the limitations of my sociocultural upbringing. I don’t have to be that dumb and dumbstruck student when I can mull over questions as long as I want with no one the wiser, and I can give my response in a well-organized, well-articulated fashion with sources to boot. I don’t have to worry about all the variables that come with the spontaneity of speech. Or maybe it’s true, and my mental dexterity will never match up with everyone else’s, as evident by my sucky speaking and writing, but at least for that one moment, I feel that I get an honest chance to try and be a realer me, a me that deserves to have her opinion heard because it’s a damn good opinion.
Problem is, people don’t communicate through pen and paper 100 % of the time; I know this and I can accept this, but it’s hard to. It is so, so hard. And yet…I can’t seem to shatter this tiny kernel of hope within me that someday, I’ll be able to talk the way I want to. Tl;dr: I wish I could speak like a champ in class and in life.
*Obvs not her real name.
Today I want to introduce you to a great poet that I know and her poetry. Her name is Alex Nastasa. We came to know each other when we were both students of Science One, but it wasn’t until the summer following that school year, when we happened to both enrol in the same creative writing class, that I realized the extent of sheer awesomeness that I was dealing with. I mean, this girl had brains and confidence and could sing a pretty damn good rendition of your favourite pop song (side note: if you’re into choir, consider joining the UBC C4 Choral Composition Club, which she founded), but now you tell me she’s a brilliant wordsmith too? Dude, some people have it too easy.
After second year, I saw less and less of Alex as our classes never intersected (she’s a Biophysics major with a Creative Writing minor, I study Behavioural Neuroscience and English) and UBC is just too darn huge to have too many coincidental meetings, but I never forgot how amazing it was to be able to read her work that one summer and to talk about books and authors and craft and the purpose of writing, if there was any.
Just last year, though, a friend pointed out that Alex ran a blog, REFINED RAMBLINGS , where she publishes gems such as these:
By Alexandra Nastasa
The human brain fills me with awe. There’s a hint
of lemon and a whole lot of human. I am scared
of the dark
because I do not know it.
I don’t want to think about serial killers
and monsters in the closet
and guns. The thought of going
to space terrifies me. I sleep
like a tranquilized muskrat. I love lilacs
because they smell like cat
pee and comfort. Once, I held someone’s hand;
it was awesome. Someone somewhere
crossed a river, and someone else
died because of it. Never leave the top
off the toothpaste. De ce
nu ai nici un castravete? Never again
will I offer to carry things for whole
groups of other people. Grace is
curling your pinkies in but not
touching the cup.
And obviously my first reaction was to wish I was talented enough to write poetry as beautiful as this and gosh, I was sooooooo jealous, but then I stopped being jealous because as I kept scrolling through all of these lush, gorgeously written poems, all I could feel was: <3 <3 <3. Because for me, those poems were a reminder of what it felt like that summer to rediscover my relationship to writing and, for maybe the first time, what it was like to have friends who also loved to write and read and talk about writing and reading as much as I did. And I was so happy to discover that Alex had never stopped writing for herself, that her writing was more intelligent than ever, and all I wanted was for her to keep writing for a long time so that I could always be inspired by her.
Anyhow, I hope that in sharing Alex’s poems, they inspire you too. Ha ha, I’m such a fan, but seriously, people, check her blog out–and leave a comment if you can!
I get why it’s harder to invest yourself in a short story instead of a novel, but I think short stories don’t get enough love. When you’re on a tight schedule but want to get some uninterrupted reading done, they’re perfect. There are also a lot of technical feats you can achieve with a short story that wouldn’t work that well in longer form. And some of them can be pretty imaginative and inspiring. A quick burst of…well, whatever you want! If you’re up for some reading and want to try some short stories out, I recommend these, in no particular order:
- “ZZ’s Sleep-Away Camp for Disordered Dreamers” by Karen Russell
- “The Missing Guest” by Alice Sola Kim
- “The Summer People” by Kelly Link
- “Why I Read Beowulf” by Shashi Bhat*
- “Bartleby, The Scrivener” by Herman Melville
- “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” by Nathaniel Hawthorne
- “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
- “The Last Ride of the Glory Girls” by Libba Bray*
- “The Speckled Band” by Arthur Conan Doyle
- “Zero Hour” by Ray Bradbury
- “Two Part Invention” by Doretta Lau*
- “The Groom” by Emily Carroll**
Looking at this list now, I suppose you could say my interests delve into the more speculative and/or nineteenth century. Huh. What do you think of the short story? Love it or hate it? Any favourite genres you would like to share? I love talking about what I read to others, and listening to what they like to read! I only wish there was more time to do it in real life.
*The full version is not available online, but if you’re able to get it in print, either through the library or bookstore, then I highly recommend it.
** Short story comic! Woo-hoo!
hey hey friends. I guess we’re all friends here, and if we’re not, that’s cool too, because you can’t be friends with everyone in this world. You just can’t. Like, you will just get really tired trying to be, and then your mental health will not be okay, and we can’t have that.
SO hey, this is a late-night post, so I’m a tad/lot/ out of it, and not really with a filter, or a brain. I’m basically a computer. beepbeepbeep. cool I just wrote a hit-single.
Put me on a magazine, pref. Nylon, let’s be real, that mag is kind of dope, and indie, and everyone wishes they were LDR.
If you don’t know who that is, you can just stop reading now, because we can’t actually be friends, and you actually can’t sit with us/me.
So, I do have a point to this, and perhaps my lack of focus in my intro emphasizes the point that four day weeks actually kill me.
I don’t know why, but I’m basically a jar of banana peppers during weeks like this. Like, some people like me, and some people find that I have too much burn. But, like, I’m tired, you probably deserved it. Je ne care pas.
^ Exhibit A. (Where is my brain?)
That was law speak. I’ve been thinking of going to law school today, because I would totes get in, during times like this. If only I was Elle Woods, and could just send a video of my bikini-clad body, in a hot-tub, to entice the admissions department.
But, I tried that with SFU, and they really weren’t that impressed. LOL srryguyz.
So, thesis point here, is that I have five days worth of stuff, in four days, and my brain does not approve of all of this, and it is tired, and it needs sleep, and coffee. (Yet, here I am blogging.)
Also, I had a really terrible burger at the Pub Pit tonight. Don’t get the mexi-burger/Monday special. My fries were overcooked, and my burger was seriously lacking in the amount of salsa/sour cream. No me gusta. SRSLY.
Also, I’ve read way too much of two separate novels today, and like what if I get the characters mixed up? That would be tragic.
But, not really.
Maybe my prof would emphasize and buy me a double, grande, 6-pump, non-fat, no water, tazo chai tea latté. (Seriously, though, Dr. Mauro. Shoutout. HeyBro.)
So, case and point:
We all deserve ribbons at the end of the week, for participation.
Playlist: Gemini – Fire Inside
(Yes, I’ve caught the electronic music bug that since I arrived here have noticed is super popular in Vancouver.)
Oh my gosh. If you’re currently taking an English or philosophy class in high school or university, check out these websites before you buy your required reading books. They allow you to download e-books for free that you can read on your computer, iPhone, iPad or e-reader. This has made me so happy.
Psst… It’s worth checking out all the links, as some of the sites only have classic books while others include contemporary ones as well. Also, these are only the first few sites that came up when I google-searched “free e-books” – so feel free to google key words yourself and see what you can find! (Just make sure the websites are legit so you don’t get a virus. The ones above are.)