Week Eight: A Study in Alcott

You’re thinking “Did she steal that title from Arthur Conan Doyle?” The answer is yes. Yes I did steal it from Arthur Conan Doyle.

Here is my Sherlock Holmes doll to tell you congratulations on recognizing a thing. He is joined by Edgar Allan Poe and my Roald Dahl and Mary Poppins and Enchanted Forest Chronicles books, for reasons known only to him.

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This has been one of the busiest weeks of my entire life. Being busy is nice because, you know, the point of the blog

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And I like feeling energetic and getting out and doing things and being active.

On the other hand, it’s really hot here and with all the walking to and from my apartment and around campus, I feel like I’m being slowly brined. I bet I am so delicious right now. Also, my new laptop arrived and I have not had time to even set it up. Also also it took me three hours this evening just to internet all the things I usually internet! I had to scroll back like 150 pages on tumblr. Did you know Breaking Bad ended? Man I feel like I didn’t get that information often enough when I emerged from my work coma.

The busy stuff is probably not going to let up next week either, but at least when it ends, I will have a birthday! We will probably be going to an hibachi grill because I really like it when chefs set towers of onion on fire and throw rice at my cleavage.

Because of the busy, I don’t have a lot of time to talk about things, but I am formulating some thoughts on LMA and politics and stuff, so when the crazy days are over that may be my topic. For now, I want to talk about Halloween. While Halloween in the South is never going to be as Halloweeny as Halloween in New England, it is admittedly nice to be able to wear a costume without thermals underneath. I am dressing as Sharknado. I will probably get very drunk and hug people a lot like last year.

Other things to be done in and around Halloween time:

  • Watch Practical Magic
  • Watch Hocus Pocus
  • Watch Sleepy Hollow (the movie and the tv show)
  • Carve pumpkins only one day before Halloween because otherwise they will be rotten pumpkin soup the day of
  • Maybe buy a little striped costume that says “Rufferee” on it and make my dog wear it and take pictures of her shame

Okay, back to work!

Fun links

Writers who exercise. They left off Simone de Beauvoir, who walked miles and miles every day, Joyce Carol Oates, who apparently writes entire books while she runs, and Louisa May Alcott herself, who, as one of my aunts pointed out, was a runner. Imagine running in all those clothes.

David Bowie’s Top 100 Books. Good stuff, not what you’d see on most top 100 lists. And like – it’s David Bowie.

The people who bet on who will win the Nobel Prize for literature, as told by a bookie.

For the linguists, listen to a story told in Proto Indo-European, aka an attempt at capturing the linguistic origin of the Indo-European family of languages.

 

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Week Seven: Beneath of the Planet of the Alcotts

I did say I would post my energy playlist, so you were forewarned. This is only about half the glorious action-movie montage music that inspires me to punch things and walk really fast. My mum says she prefers Pink and Maroon 5, but I find that only the songs about killing dudes and being independent and dancing about it gets me going. Oh, and One Direction.

Pumped Up Kicks, Foster the People
Song 2, Blur
Roar, Katy Perry
Miss Jackson, Panic! at the Disco ft Lolo
Survivor, Destiny’s Child
This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race, Fall Out Boy
Take Me Out, Franz Ferdinand
DARE, Gorillaz
It’s My Life, No Doubt version
URA Fever, the Kills
Dubstep of Gotta Be You, One Direction
Fell in Love With a Girl, White Stripes
Maneater, Nelly Furtado

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I finally ordered Susan Cheever’s biography of Louisa May Alcott today. Considering how I felt about Cheever’s American Bloomsbury, I don’t expect to be super impressed, but I’ll keep you updated on how much she’s disappointed me.

So these last couple of weeks haven’t been the standard LMA fare, but I’m looking for anything that inspires me to move and do things. LMA makes me want to be active, Emerson makes me want to read, and Hemingway makes me want to write (and drink). Last week I was thinking about Emerson, like you do, and this week I’m thinking about Pound and Hemingway, like you also do. Partially it’s because I’m taking American Lit I and II, which feed into each other so I’m sometimes not sure what paper I’m writing for which class, but also because both Pound and Hemingway gathered people around them in the same way Emerson did. Pound wanted to help and teach, while Hemingway mostly just wanted to fix everyone’s stupid problems so he could go back to writing and shooting things in Africa, but they both shared this incredible kind of energy and desire to go out and do shit, aka the theme of this blog. Hemingway is the only author whose writing advice I actually follow. From A Moveable Feast:

“I always worked until I had done something and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next…I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, ‘Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.’ So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written. Up in that room I decided that I would write one story about each thing that I knew about. I was trying to do this all the time I was writing, and it was good and severe discipline.

“It was in that room too that I learned not to think about anything that I was writing from the time I stopped writing until I started again the next day. That way my subconscious would be working on it and at the same time I would be listening to other people and noticing everything, I hoped; learning, I hoped; and I would read so that I would not think about my work and make myself impotent to do it. Going down the stairs when I had worked well, and that needed luck as well as discipline, was a wonderful feeling and I was free then to walk anywhere in Paris.”

“When I was writing, it was necessary for me to read after I had written. If you kept thinking about it, you would lose the thing that you were writing before you could go on with it the next day. It was necessary to get exercise, to be tired in the body, and it was very good to make love with whom you loved. That was better than anything. But afterwards, when you were empty, it was necessary to read in order not to think or worry about your work until you could do it again. I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.”

“…I had omitted [the end of “Out of Season”] which was that the old man hanged himself. This was omitted on my new theory that you could omit anything if you knew that you omitted and the omitted part would strengthen the story and make people feel something more than they understood.”

He wrote 500 words a day, and if he knew he wouldn’t be able to write one day, he’d do the extra work the day before. When people think of him now, they think of a drunk misogynist with a huge white beard. A bit Sean Connery without the Scottish accent. And he totally was that guy, but he was also really disciplined about his writing, and all about getting things done like a boss. And he was way energetic and would go off and chill in Paris and then go teach Ezra Pound how to box, and then go off and ski in the mountains and have an affair, and then try to keep Scott Fitzgerald from falling into a river in a drunken stupor (and reassure Fitzgerald that his penis is totally a normal size – you should really read A Moveable Feast if you haven’t already).

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I decided, on reflection, not to use a shirtless pic of him when he was already in the Sean Connery/Papa Hemingway years. You’re welcome.

Things that need to be done this week:

-5-page paper
-10-page paper
-Grrrrrading
-Schedule more teeth-pulling
-Walk walk walk walk
-Write write write write
-Sleep sleep sleep sleep

Links:

Living in…Little Women by Design Sponge (the “living in” series is my favorite)

Productivity Lessons from Hemingway, because he was a Cosmo tips kind of guy

Habits of Extremely Happy People (you will probably end up somewhat annoyed by this, like I was, but maybe it will inspire you a little)

Writing Tools of 20 Authors (though they leave out Colette, whose description of her writing tools might be my favorite)

Week Six: I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (of 1858)

I’ve been spending a lot of time on Emerson lately – both by choice and because of school – and thinking about the really wild absolutes he espouses in Self-Reliance and the Divinity School Address and American Scholar. The thing about Transcendentalism as a movement is that it’s really sort of rooted in this concept of being a perfect person. I’ve always had a bit of an obsession with being perfect. When I was younger, I would make lists of my faults and try to figure out ways of overcoming them so I could be perfect. Then I focused on things like being popular or getting high honors, and now I focus on…shutting up so people won’t be annoyed by me and getting a 4.0. It’s a sad moment when you realize you’ve been working on the same faults for 20 years and haven’t really made much headway. I even looked to literature for inspiration back in the day too, although then it was Judy Blume and now it’s Alcott and Emerson (and a dozen others I haven’t even gotten into yet who don’t sound quite as good as “now it’s Alcott and Emerson hort hort hort CLEVERNESS”). I have wanted to achieve some mythical state of having my shit together for so long that it’s just like a part of my character now, or something. That’s what this entire blog is about – I’m not here to accept things about my own nature or learn to be kind to myself or any of that. I’m very kind to myself, to the point that it’s self-defeating. I’m here to stop being such a lazy asshole and learn some discipline. This is why the Transcendentalists, particularly Emerson but also the Alcotts, are a good resource. They do not mess around with ambiguity. No Nathaniel Hawthorne whining about whether isolated intellectualism is morally right. This is not a brotherhood; this is about looking inward, finding out what’s wrong with you, kicking its ass, and working really hard all the time so you will never feel like you’ve failed to live up to your own potential – “Do your work, and you shall reinforce yourself.” •••

As I’ve said before, my main problem is that I’m really tired. Also internet, but mainly the tired thing. I don’t understand people who have energy. I feel energetic for a maximum of one hour, after I’ve had coffee. Before I started drinking coffee, I could barely function until about noon. The rest of the day I spend wanting to sleep and then, when I’m allowed to sleep, remembering there was a thing I wanted to read. The usual advice doesn’t seem to work for me. Does it work for anyone? Are there people who are actually rejuvenated by a mid-afternoon snack of granola and blueberries? Are there people who can actually nap for only 15 minutes at a time and not crash for six hours and wake up in the middle of the night wondering what century it is? If they exist, I think I hate those people.

So I’ve been working on figuring out what things might actually give me energy. Here are a few:

1. Music, obviously. I’m going to post my energy playlist in the midweek update. Just know that it involves some embarrassment and a quite frankly alarming amount of songs about shooting people. Pumped up by the death of my enemies! Hell yeah! This is Sparta!

2. Telling myself I’ll regret doing (or not doing) something in a week, i.e. “M, in a week you will look back and regret not doing your lesson planning right now.” Sometimes that backfires and I go SO WHAT, BRAIN, but mostly it works.

3. ????

4. Profit.

I really have no other things. If I drink more than a cup of coffee a day, I get heart palpitations, and I’m pretty much convinced energy drinks are the Baby Boomers’ way of culling the herd so there will be more room on the planet for them to live forever, because that shit is going to kill my generation before we’re fifty. Exercise makes me sleepy. Speak to me through the ages, Louisa May Alcott! Or other energetic people! Does something just wind you up at the beginning of the day and you don’t wind down until bedtime? What is your secret, people who are compelled to do stuff other than sleep on weekends? Tell my kind of your wisdom.

Next week: Emerson and Pound and Hemingway (oh my).

*** There’s a footnote in my edition of Emerson’s essays that says, “In the first edition text (1841), Emerson wrote: ‘But do your thing.'” Clearly me and Emerson were meant to be bros even though I can’t imagine what he’d say about the state of my netflix queue.

 

Fun links:

The 5 best mothers in literature, including Marmee, who is apparently too perfect for other people as well.

What kind of reader are you?

The best times to buy things.

This Girl travels to Concord, Mass.

An old man turned 98…

Today was going to be a nice post on energy! And how to get it! But I actually just fell asleep sitting up and am typing this with only one eye open. This is either ironic or an unfortunate coincidence. I have two English degrees and I don’t know the difference; I just know that it’s not funny when people link to the ‘Ironic’ video like they’re the first person who ever thought of that. I was 14 when ‘Jagged Little Pill’ came out. You don’t need to remind me of Alanis okay. She’s always in my heart.

Operations will resume tomorrow. In the meantime, have a video of a kitten squeaking.

 

Week Five: a New Hope

Y’all, it’s been almost three weeks since school started. I’m getting into the routine, I just beat two really hard levels of Candy Crush and am now in first place, and I’m ready to take on this month/semester/remaining four months of 2013. Yes, it’s true that I spent most of the weekend opening my bank account, seeing that there’s still only $6.04 left in it, and screaming “FINE THEN WHO ASKED YOU ANYWAY.” I have backslid horribly this week, which was very busy and not at all fun. I even drank soda and then felt bad and then wondered if I had become Mormon because I felt bad.

Three things I haven’t done yet that I intended to do:

1. exercised every day

2. written every day

3. slept every day

Last week was a crappy week, so I’m not going to get down on myself for marathoning ‘New Girl’ until I started to contemplate giving myself quirky bangs (I brought myself down from the ledge on that one by looking at pictures of the last twenty times I cut my own hair), or cooing over pictures of Harry Styles on tumblr because whatever stop judging me. I’m pretty sure that if I accomplished the first thing on the list, the other two would follow. Past experience with regular exercise has taught me that once I get into the routine, everything else on my schedule sort of falls into place.

LMA has a few ideas on the benefits of regular exercise, mainly that it and fresh air are necessary to the spirit, and I have to admit this is one of the few areas in which I agree with her completely, despite the fact that I avoid getting sweaty whenever I can. It’s funny to me that at one point in time women were so strongly discouraged from exercising or even really going outside, and here I am a little over a hundred years later wondering if typing burns enough calories to justify not going for a walk (if I were able to type constantly for an hour, I’d burn 34 calories – sadly not enough). But being outside, seeing natural light, are key elements (for me, anyway) in avoiding that particular kind of depression that comes from being inactive and sitting in front of the computer all day. I really like sitting in front of the computer all day. I don’t really know how to change that. But I’ve been ignoring all the physical things that come with it, and I do vaguely remember that at one point in my past I didn’t spend 10+ hours a day watching netflix and contorting myself into increasingly weird positions to alleviate back and neck pain, carpal tunnel, and eye strain.

The next few weeks (months?) are going to be crazy busy. To motivate myself a little and to give an idea of what my schedule is like, I took a little picture of my google schedule. It is depressing. The white gaps are where I get to relax. And actually, now that I’m looking at it, that big chunk of relaxing time on Sunday is gone because that’s when laundry and apartment cleaning happens. OH SADNESS.

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Do you see that 6:00am exercise time? I don’t mind saying that the prospect of getting up at 6 and going for a walk is a little upsetting, because although I hate getting into bed, once I’m there I never want to leave.

Early-morning motivation, y’all – how do you do it? Someone yelling at you? Energetic music? I used to have my alarm ring tone set to ‘Eye of the Tiger’ and now whenever I hear it I get a little traumatic shock. I set my brother’s ring tone to it for a while and had to change it because whenever he called I’d automatically scream and turn off the phone. This week I’m making an energy playlist and we’ll see if I can use it to get my sad self out of bed before the dog runs in and licks my face because she knows what the alarm means even if the human doesn’t.

Week Four: the Revenge

Sometimes it’s difficult to get underneath the text and find where LMA is actually writing her own philosophy rather than “moral pap for the young.” I don’t think it’s really a surprise that she didn’t like the books she was writing, was startled at their success, and would rather have been writing the Gothic thrillers she liked so much. So it’s hard to find her in her novels, and since it’s her philosophy I want to get at, I’ve been thinking about the way she writes about the March sisters and what that might say about her own ideals.

She did not 100% approve of her sister Anna’s (the one Meg is based on) ideals, particularly her marriage. Anna, like Meg, was the super Victorian one who fit right into the ideal of true womanhood, and her husband was very dominant and she was very submissive. LMA doesn’t seem to want to criticize that ideology, and in fact praises it quite a bit, so if you’re reading the books to try and get an idea of LMA’s way of thinking, Meg’s chapters are probably not it. For example, one of the formative chapters on Meg is the chapter in which she goes to hang out with her rich friends and, because being poor really sucks and it sucks even more when you realize other people get to have nice things through no particular accomplishments of their own, she gets all hussied up and feels bad afterward. To me, Meg is the least interesting character in the book (except for Beth), but I sympathize with her completely on that point: it is really, really hard being poor. She comes home and asks Marmee if she really has “plans” for the girls’ futures, the way Mrs. Moffat thinks she does. This is Marmee’s response:

“I want my daughters to be beautiful, accomplished, and good. To be admired, loved, and respected. To have a happy youth, to be well and wisely married, and to lead useful, pleasant lives, with as little care and sorrow to try them as God sees fit to send. To be loved and chosen by a good man is the best and sweetest thing which can happen to a woman, and I sincerely hope my girls may know this beautiful experience. It is natural to think of it, Meg, right to hope and wait for it, and wise to prepare for it, so that when the happy time comes, you may feel ready for the duties and worthy of the joy. My dear girls, I am ambitious for you, but not to have you make a dash in the world-marry rich men merely because they are rich, or have splendid houses, which are not homes because love is wanting. Money is a needful and precious thing-and when well used, a noble thing-but I never want you to think it is the first or only prize to strive for. I’d rather see you poor men’s wives, if you were happy, beloved, contented, than queens on thrones, without self-respect and peace.”

Super helpful, Marmee, thanks. Being chosen by a good man is pretty much last on my list of things I care about, and I don’t think it’s really that high on Jo’s or LMA’s lists either, so I’m not sure what that was all about. Later in the book there’s another section where Meg is wrong and her husband is right and she has to fix it, and LMA actually writes: “a woman’s happiest kingdom is home, her highest honor the art of ruling it not as a queen, but as a wise wife and mother.” Which…what? No. LMA never married, was never interested in being married (I’m pretty sure that, like me, she preferred the ladies), and probably had seen enough “domestic bliss” to last several lifetimes.

So where is LMA’s real voice here? It’s definitely in any of the chapters about teaching children, but where else? I can never be certain. In the chapter in which Jo gets published for the first time, her father’s reaction is to say, “You can do better than this, Jo. Aim at the highest, and never mind the money.” Which is kind of a dick thing to say to your daughter when she’s been successful at something, but it comes up again and again: don’t write trash, Louisa Jo. You don’t see him complaining when she gets paid tons of money later on and he gets to be president of the college she pays for, now do you? Is it too obvious I’m not a fan of Bronson Alcott/Mr. March? I guess I’m not very fond of a someone who would let his kids starve so he can pursue his ideals. I think maybe that will get me kicked out of the Transcendentalist club, but LMA was a Transcendentalist and she certainly seemed to realize making filthy lucre was a necessity of life if you didn’t want scurvy. Only a page or two later, she says,

Wealth is certainly a most desirable thing, but poverty has its sunny side, and one of the sweet uses of adversity is the genuine satisfaction which comes from hearty work of head or hand, and to the inspiration of necessity, we owe half the wise, beautiful, and useful blessings of the world. Jo enjoyed a taste of this satisfaction, and ceased to envy richer girls, taking great comfort in the knowledge that she could supply her own wants, and need ask no one for a penny.

I think this is more her style. Hard work, yes, independence, yes, but money is not a bad thing and it’s very nice to be able to eat.

However, it generally seems that when she describes Amy’s life, this is what she thinks of as the ideal. Or maybe that’s me talking, because Amy is my favorite, and if I were to take any of the characters as models, it would be her. She’s diplomatic, artistic, practical, and kind, which are all things I would like to be. When I was younger, I was really scared of everything and would have tried to be more like Jo, not letting people run all over me. I went in the opposite direction for a while and was very sarcastic and kind of horrible. But the older I get, the more I want to be a kind and compassionate person. Everybody hates Amy because of the book-burning thing and because she ends up with Laurie and Jo doesn’t, but for my part I’d much rather be Amy than any of the other characters.

I think if I’m going to get at LMA’s real thoughts, I think I’m going to have to go outside the text and read her biographies and journals. Am I going to end up a Louisa May Alcott scholar by the end of this project? I feel like this is destined to end with me in a huge taffeta dress, reciting things in front of an audience at Orchard House, but nothing on earth could make me do my hair like this. What were you thinking, Louisa May Alcott?

Next week: talkin’ bout work, work, work.

Midweek: Wishing for Concord, Mass

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1. Concord School of Philosophy, 2. Louisa May Alcott School–Cleveland, Ohio (4), 3. Little Women / Louisa May Alcott, 4. Little Women (1994), 5. Little Women cover, 6. Louisa May Alcott’s house, 7. Concord, Massachusetts, 8. Walden Pond, Concord, Massachusetts, 9. Louisa May Alcott’s Apple Slump

I’m really just in the mood for nice New England things right now. Autumn doesn’t happen where I live until about December or so, but we bravely drink pumpkin spice lattes in 70-degree weather in October and pretend the leaves are changing color because it’s cold and not because it hasn’t rained for three weeks. So I’m definitely in a Concord frame of mind. One of my professors is there right now, and left us with a video called The American Transcendentalists. She warned us it would be cheesy, but nothing could have prepared us for the dude cosplaying Henry David Thoreau, swirling his hands through the water of Walden Pond and reciting from Walden with dramatic…pauses and theatrical emphasis. Lots of gentle guitar in the background. Louisa M. showed up briefly, so they could show her grave in Sleepy Hollow. No Alcott cosplayers available, I guess.

Things are going quite well. I’ve gotten many things done, almost all of which I intended to get done, followed my schedule…mostly…and actually went to sleep at 9:30 last night and will probably be in bed by 9:30 tonight. It’s a Christmas hot summer miracle!