Saturday, January 24, 2009

Poshlust and my mental journey while reading Lolita.

I miss being an English major. Period. To think that I spent years of my life reading and talking about books, processing through challenging ideas and aspects of history seems like a dream. I crave hearing different, difficult ideas and being challenged to sharpen my own and to read more closely. I realized this while I was reading Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov over Christmas break. I was mostly so disgusted by Humbert Humbert (the main character who attempts to justify his sexual perversion and rape of Lolita), especially in light of the research I've been doing on sexual trafficking, that I didn't really pay attention to the nuances of Nabokov's novel, his mastery of language or the implications behind the complex themes. I was reading for a book club and realized I had nothing to say beyond by abhorrence of the main character.

So. I started rereading one of my favorite books, Reading Lolita in Tehran, and all I wanted to do was sit around and think or go to class. The book is a memoir of an Iranian woman and the literature class she taught in her living room in the Islamic Republic of Iran, where they secretly gathered and read books banned by the regime.

(Before I share some of the incredibly thought provoking insight I received from this book, I just need to mention as an aside that the idea of writing a memoir in books is so incredibly brilliant and telling of the power of literature, especially in an oppressed society.)

"We rediscovered that we were also living, breathing human beings; and no matter how repressive the state became, no matter how intimidated and frightened we were, like Lolita we tried to escape and create our own little pockets of freedom." When I read this sentence, I realized how captured I had been by Humbert's the point where I had not really thought about the whole situation from Lolita's perspective--even though I was so disgusted by Humbert.

"The desperate truth of Lolita's story is not the rape of a twelve year old girl by a dirty old man but the confiscation of one's individual's life by another. We don't know what Lolita would have become if Humbert had not engulfed her." The reader watches Lolita wither as her life is completely taken over.

The two year cross country journey that Humbert takes Lolita on, never staying in one place too long, attempting to feed Lolita on the meaningless joys of tourist traps while attempting to live out his fantasy...which despite his success in mentally and essentially physically imprisoning her, cannot truly be his fantasy because he can't escape the fact that Lolita cries herself to sleep at night or has to be bribed to service him. The freedom and dream life he thought he would gain is impossible to achieve, and we see Humbert grow in his burgeoning insanity as he desperately tries to hold onto his fading dream.

Azar Nafisi also mentions Nabokov's Russian term poshlust: is not only the obviously trashy but mainly the falsely important, the falsely beautiful, the falsely attractive." This word reminded me of the figurative journeys that we go on--of course, most not like Humbert's journey--but the continual pursuit of things that we believe will bring us ultimate happiness, but just end up running us around in circles, crazy by the time we can't capture what we thought we wanted.


I recently finished Exile by Richard North Patterson which at first glance looks like a the pulpy mystery novel that it is, whose intent is to have its reader driven by the plot alone to race through its 750 pages. However, its research based subject matter, the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, was both insightful and thought provoking.

A culturally Jewish lawyer, David Wolfe, is about to enter a career in politics and is engaged to a woman, daughter of a holocaust survivor, highly connected to the Israeli population in the United States and overseas. However, when the Israeli Prime Minister is assasinated in San Francisco, he is asked to defend Hana Arif, the Palestinian woman he was involved with 13 years prior, as she is the main suspect in the killing. What follows is the unravelling of not only who was behind the assassination, but a close look at the Israeli-Palestine conflict.

There are two main things I walked away thinking about: the ways that one culture shapes our thinking and concerns and the question of how we are ever going to be able to overcome our prejudices and hatred.

One question I often think about is how are we meant to live? Much of American culture is defined by the value of personal freedom and individualism. It becomes very easy to have a lackadaisical attitude toward life and to be consumed by details that are often meaningless in comparison to those in other nations. How are we meant to live? I can't believe that being naive to the world's issues is the way. I think it's important to be thankful for the certain freedoms that we have here, but at the same time to notice its own frailties and shortcomings...the obsession with having more stuff, or forgetting what community means or thinking that everyone else covets what we have.

Those who have grown up amidst war and violence obviously have a completely different perspective; one that I will never be able to truly understand and can only enter into through books and art.

So I suppose that I can try to answer to two questions I raised the same way: we must live by knowing one another's stories and therefore fostering an understanding and sharing in one another's pain and by doing so, slowly letting go of the hatred and prejudice that poisons humanity.

I've been trying to plan this post for weeks...but I always seem to lack the words to do so. The complexity of life makes it nearly impossible to name an answer or to attempt to really understand. And then my white, educated, American background sometimes leaves me feeling not privileged but naive. I would like to have hope that we as people can humble ourselves and not live out of pride and fear, but out of love and grace. But sometimes that seems like an impossible task. Perhaps we are all permanently exiled from our true Home in this life. Things are not as they should be and I just don't know how to handle it.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration narrative. Another reason why 8th graders aren't totally jaded.

One gym.
Five hundred
Thirteen year olds.
One overloaded server.
So. Instead we plugged in.
8 inch black and white,
held a microphone
and listened
(Most) of them)
to our president
the old fashioned way.

And it was beautiful.

Monday, January 19, 2009

swooned by snow. no words necessary.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

too alive to stay.

The pipes are frozen.
No choice
but to sit
in my pajamas
and wait.

Somehow I feel more inspired by life right now than I have in a while. Well, inspired in a different way. All fall I just wanted to be outside and walking through leaves. Now the only place I want to be is inside as far away from the 2 degree weather. The one thing that winter is good for is justifying a day spent mostly on the couch.

In my internet reading and researching this morning, I came across a Brooklyn artist's prints, which had titles that could have been poetry--and of course they made me want to write poetry off of them...attempting to say in words what she said in colors and scenes and figures. I found one that seemed to say more to me and about me than what I could ever do in words, though.

It is called "Too Alive to Stay" and seems to encapsulate the feeling that is just rooted within me that there is so much to be doing and excited about right now. I want to reign in this feeling and hope that that i don't ever stay in a place--in all its literal and figurative connotations--because it feels safe or comfortable. The current aliveness includes: attempting to become fluent in Spanish, writing in general and with my students and figuring out to teach it well, reading books, planning summer travel, listening to good music and drinking wine with friends.

So. Happy Winter. Perhaps there's some hope for these cold, cold months until spring.

stolen morning. the inspiration.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


I searched my blog because last year I wrote about an article I wanted to send to some friends. I laughed when I realized that I wrote the post almost exactly a year ago, while struggling with the same seasonal affective demons I have currently. So I thought it would share because it seemed relatively hopeful.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Quiero vivir en una casa en Buenos Aires. Por favor?

Quiero hablar en espanol muy bien. Pienso que viviria en Buenos Aires, en ese casa, mi espanol (y los verbos) estaria muy bien. Necesito solamente el dinero para un boleto.

Now, what I attempted to say:
I want to speak Spanish well. I think that if I lived in Buenos Aires, in this house, my Spanish (and my verbs) would be really good. I only need money for a ticket.