Wednesday, 16 December 2009

John Galt

Terribly disappointed to find out there are John Galt mugs and whatnot out there -wondering what Ayn would have to say about it...

Me? Also terribly disappointed to find out John Galt is an actual character.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Twitter -Day 2, Ayn Rand -round 2

I'm getting a bit better at tweeting -I'm now learning to use TweetDeck, which I find can be a big help to keep track of my tweets, but is not without its perils. For example, I now have quite a few columns that sort out nicely the lists and people I follow, but they don't all fit in the width of my screen...It's great for multitasking (well, bi-tasking) though, so I can now visit websites and
follow tweets. And the feeling of being in a rollercoaster is beginning to go away, as is my problem with the 140-character-limit.

I'm putting the online organisers on hold, because I'm meeting my reading group on Thursday to discuss the work of Ayn Rand (second round) and I'd like to finish Atlas Shrugged. I have to say -almost 20 years apart from Anthem, I feel I can still see stitches. Perhaps she wanted it that way, but if she did, it bugs me that she wrote about the same issues in her non-fiction works. Did she see in the novel the instrument to apply her philosophical theory? She claims in the Romantic Manifesto that she's a Romantic writer because, unlike Naturalists, what's important in her fiction is the plot. I'm inclined to disagree based on what I've read so far.

As for the stitches, to me, Anthem expresses the lack of individual status in a social organization, and Atlas -it seems so far- the emergence of a system where individuality primes and the way of doing business is changing; social bonds don't matter if they don't contribute to business.

Interestingly, while the hero in Anthem -the one that finds his individuality- is a man, the one with nerves of steel for business in Atlas is a woman.

One of the things I'm curious about is whether the poliphony I'm finding now will continue throughout the rest of the novel. It's also interesting that (now that I'm writing I notice) both stories have two strong figures each and that these, in each story, are a man and a woman. It may cease to be interesting -I don't know. And if Anthem reminded me of Shirley Valentine, Atlas takes me back to Albee and Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Who's John Galt?

Saturday, 12 December 2009


Still learning to use online organizers, but now I've also begun to learn how to Twitter -thanks to another teacher who kindly volunteered to walk me through it and introduce me to some of his fellow twitterers -all very nice people.

I didn't know what to expect, but I liked what I saw: friendly people chatting about their lives -sometimes talking shop, sometimes just saying how they'd spend the evening. It was really like witnessing a face to face conversation. A lot of sharing also seems to go on, which is nice. Someone miles away from you finds something interesting and within seconds is able to share it with you, and you can send back your reaction.

What I'm having a bit of trouble with is, of course, keeping my messages down to 140 characters. I've noticed that abbreviations are not the same -generally speaking- as the ones used in SMS.

The character limit reminded me of mini-sagas. I used to visit a website with nice ones but I've forgotten now. If anyone knows of one, I'll be grateful if you can share it with me.

Another thing my twittering experience made me think of -revise, really- is the concept of multitasking. I can talk on the phone while I watch a series on TV, say goodbye/hi to people in the room and maybe even do some light reading. I can't tweet and follow a conversation at the same time. I can't text and be aware of what's going on around me. Which sets me thinking: is multitasking a skill you get through practice only, or is it also related to the kind of connections your brain has made over the years so that it's more difficult for older people (ehem...) to multitask technologically?

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

What do I put my students through?

This year I particularly stressed the importance of planning before writing, something my students were not entirely convinced of. One of the reasons was that they're much more used to typing than putting pen to paper and, of course, it's a lot easier to make changes while you write that way.

Some of them were about to sit international exams where they would not have access to a computer, so I thought it was important for them to at least be aware of some techniques they could resort to in order to organise their writing. I showed them what I could and they paid attention -some of them even tried out the strategies.

Recently I found out that there are online writing organizers and I'm thinking that this could be helpful mainly in two ways: first, they can act as a bridge, with students trying out the organizers in a familiar medium and getting used to exploring the possibilities different organizers have to offer. The transition, I imagine, should be much smoother then. The second advantage I see is that these online organizers can become part of these students' "writer's toolkit" (I think it's a Stephen King phrase), so that when they have to write something in real life that needs planning they'll be familiar enough with the tools to use them without help.

Of course, the next logical step was for me to try out these organizers so I could offer first-hand accounts of the experience. I browsed several websites and, for no particular reason, decided to start with exploratree . There's a wide range of ready-made thinking guides which you can use and adapt, or you can simply create your own.

I tried one of the ready-made ones and liked it. I need practice because I'm really used to using paper and pen, but it felt more natural than I'd expected, and I was able to brainstorm some ideas on a topic that I'd like to include here when it's done. So I'll keep trying and sharing my experience with you.

All in all, it seems promising.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Needles and thread

I thought I was going to write a melancholy piece again tonight, and begin by remembering a poem that's touched me deeply even though it has but three lines. I went to the book where it sits and opened it -the page's bookmarked- and then I saw I'd mixed up the lines of one poem with the name of the author of the poem on the other side of the page.

Then different thoughts came to mind. The poem I went to see is called "Separation" and it was written by W.S. Merwin. I thought -I was absolutely sure- the author had been Marianne Moore. Who actually has, on the other side, a poem of her own entitled "I May, I Might, I Must".

I was baffled for a few seconds, and then I saw it: Moore's title became my motto this year and I shared it with those I won't be seeing for a while. Still, the separation runs more deeply, to include those that have made an impact at different moments of my life.

I didn't intend to adopt that motto, but the force of circumstance (and I suppose some trait in me) drove me to do so. And, like pieces of thread making a fabric, I'm reminded of yet another literary piece; one of the very first short stories in English I chose to read. "The force of circumstance". The thread takes me to an essay called "A Tapestry of Friends", and the melancholy softly begins to vanish. A veil is lifted, white, vaguely see-through, to reveal a woman's head and "The Woman in Black" comes to mind. A rocking chair frantically moving on the stage of a tightly packed tiny theatre and a woman screaming in the middle of the audience to wake us all from our thoughts.

The plot thickens (some vague literary recollection, and my Spanglish making "plot" transcend the field of literature right into that of making cloth, just like "trama" does in Spanish, while I search for the word I do want, but cannot find, "urdimbre"). The plot thickens, then, and I'm back inside a theatre, where a house falls apart: it's the Birlings's, after the inspector has done his job...and in a sudden twist I come back full circle to Ayn Rand and collectivism vs individualism but now I get it, I get it in a different way because I'm not the same and because my world is not the same.

And though the inspector's words will always have a place in my heart, and reverberate more powerfully every time someone suffers close by, I understand now that my own identity is a gift and should be cherished. Or, anyway, I cherish it. And what I think I've learnt this year is exactly that: the world is composed of "I"s and "We"s and little by little a fabric takes some shape. And "I"s and "We"s do not need to be mutually exclusive, and I'm luckily and inevitably linked to each of these other threads in a unique way.

Of course life hurts sometimes, but all wounds eventually heal (and, no, I will not succumb now to the corny impulse of quoting Ms Dickinson and point that there is no scar...) My wounds are healing and don't look half as deep as I thought they were.

And as I end this by choosing a title, punk music fills my head through The Ramones (and I suppress another impulse...).Music which, oddly enough, I've always found secretively ironic -but then again I'm not one to analyse lyrics...

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

My Emily Dickinson Day

It might be because of the rain, or the Monday that feels like Sunday...whatever the reason, it's an Emily Dickinson day for me.

     One of my favourite poems by her starts "There's a certain slant of light/Winter afternoons/that oppresses(...)". It's not winter here, and I'm not sure about the slant of light, but it's a strange time of the year.
Summer's almost here, and we're all supposed to be looking forward to days on the beach, or sunbathing, travelling, chilling out...And this year I just can't chill out that easily. I am in a melancholy mood -again, perhaps because it's been raining for a couple of days now, perhaps because I look back to the year that's about to end and, although on balance it's been well positive, I just can't shake off that easily certain things that happened -certain connections that came about and sometimes failed.

    And so it's an Emily Dickinson day...and I remembered something I wrote a few years ago and thought I'd share it with you.
     Because it might also be what growing up feels like; words you know you want to say but keep to yourself because you're not sure how they will affect someone you care for, words you want to shout but know better, looks and gestures that you now understand more fully, and are not quite sure how to handle, what to do with them...

It's Monday -and it's been raining. And here's a somewhat more articulate way of expressing my feelings:

Rainy days and Mondays

“Rain, rain, go away
come again another day”
(Trad. Song)

“There’s a certain Slant of light,
 Winter afternoons--
 That oppresses, like the Heft
 Of Cathedral Tunes--”
 (E.Dickinson,258,Harvard edition)

I can picture my mother –ages ago, when I was still far from existing- sitting by the window enduring the particular slant of light of a Sunday afternoon. I know it moved her deeply –she has told me- and that the Sunday twilight always used to make her uneasy. She was young and new to a bigger city and perhaps she felt lonely. Then again, this anxiety, this uneasiness may have also had to do with the fact that the weekend was ending, and a new week was stretching out before her. At the time she held two jobs and carried out studies at University, so resuming her routine on Mondays can’t have been easy. I imagine she wouldn’t just slip into it like into an old, tattered -but cosy- slipper. There was some effort involved. Some breaking in of a new week, like the one you need to do with a new pair of pointe shoes.

It took me years to understand and share that feeling. My own restlessness begins on Sunday evening and worsens with the colours of dawn. At night I toss and turn, going in my mind through all the errands and usual activities of Mondays. At 6.30 I wake up and a little later, when daybreak begins, and I can see all the pinks and pale blues of the sky, my heart sinks. Mondays are oppressive, endless –or so it seems at that hour.

It was different as a child. Mondays were a source of joy; on waking up, there were visions of school breaks, of friends, of learning. I looked forward to Monday activities, to all the running around and having fun. There were, alas, no anxious thoughts or wishing that the week would come to an end as fast as possible. Carpe diem; unconsciously, we took it day by day. Starting by Monday.

Rainy days were a celebration then, too. Against every adult’s advice we children would skip puddles, reject umbrellas and let the rain run down our faces and the wind mess with our hair. We tend to lose that as we grow old. We become wary of ruining a good pair of shoes or a hair-do, of getting racoon eyes from non-waterproof mascara. We run for cover if we’re outdoors and caught off-guard. We miss our umbrellas and improvise, covering our heads and faces with arms and hands and newspapers.

When do we start to change? How and why do we just let go of all that carefree joy? Is that what becoming an adult really is about? Grim Mondays and scurrying in the rain? I can still enjoy a rainy day, but only indoors. I can sit by the window and watch little drops fall on the glass and then look out on the street as if through a kaleidoscope. I take delight in hearing the pitter patter on a rugged tin roof. But something’s missing. Something has been forever lost. I can’t find a name for it. As Dickinson put it, I can find no “scar,/ But internal difference,/ Where the Meanings, are--”.

Monday, 16 November 2009

On finishing Rand's Anthem

I've just finished reading Anthem and confirmed what I thought when I started it. I'm afraid can't feel the same way as Ayn Rand when it comes to terms like "we" and "I".

Perhaps it has to do with the fact that we must have grown up in very different contexts. She experienced a smothering "We". I suffered alienating "I"s.
Unlike when I started the book, however, I now think that perhaps we may share some ideas but we may be coming at them from opposite directions. I'll have to explore her works a lot more and let my thoughts set in before I can add any further comments, though.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Seams and connections

Replying to Daniella made me think of other connections I feel as far as Anthem is concerned. Before starting the latter, I read a couple of plays from the theatre of the absurd and one of them -The Caretaker by H. Pinter- struck an odd chord.

Perhaps Ms Rand wants us to see the seams in Anthem, forcing us to see collectivism taken to an extreme just to state more forcefully the case for the individual, the self, that she develops in her non-fiction works.

And this issue of challenging the status quo, within any society or community -big or small- far and beyond political issues (with which I won't get involved) is and has been present everywhere I think. If you want to challenge it you're bound to find strong resistance.

The question now is: is it worth the effort? And even if it's not, is it possible to stifle your need to do so? Is your need justifiable?

Oh! And I figured out why I think of Shirley Valentine while reading this other book: they're both about searching your own identity, which you lost at some point, but you don't know when or how exactly -and most probably not of your free will. Even if the settings are miles apart in all respects. And you're not completely sure of what you'll find at the end of your quest -it will probably be some identity resembling your old one, but almost certainly not the one you remember having -or not, in the case of Anthem.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Melting pot


I hope you enjoy reading my posts and will want to share some of your thoughts as well.
At the moment I'm reading Ayn Rand's Anthem and at times I feel I'm inside a melting pot. Images of  Brave New World, Farenheit 451º and the likes get mixed up with those of more tender stories I can't quite identify so clearly, with Shirley Valentine for some reason, too, and I also see it dealing with timeless social issues that sometimes appear more politically dressed but abound in everyday life.

It doesn't, however, remind me of any Russian writings I've read -which was a surprise- and I find Ms Rand's tone in her introduction quite different from the one used in the story -as befits a gifted writer.
I'll be finishing it shortly. More on it when I do...