month 2

month 2 of the sabbatical began with the conclusion of my reading of the hunger games trilogy — more on that in a separate post — and the end of my reading, prep, and grading for the online course i was teaching. hallelujah! if i sit very quietly, i can hear it… the sound of not having a deadline for at least 2 weeks… i almost dont want to say it out loud for fear of jinxing things and suffering the wrath of the universe. but screw it. i’m saying it. and i’m saying no with abandon.

i am also taking the advice of a friend with whom i had dinner with tonight who reminded me to “make every day count” during this precious time away from the routine of academic duties. so i am left to wonder what form that ends up taking. for now, i will simply nod and agree and document as a way of realizing this pearl of wisdom.

“…but every end is a beginning.”

so last week a few things came to an end:

  • i finished the hunger games (and eagerly and voraciously dove into book 2; so in need of book 2 was i that i clicked on the buy it now button and had it instantly delivered via amazon kindle to my kindle for ipad. im halfway through book 2 — catching fire to be precise — and although im not exactly hating the ebook experience, i am longing for the affordances of the good ol’ paperback.)
  • i went with an earnest crew to watch the last of the harry potter films: harry potter and the deathly hallows, part 2. it was indeed deathly and strangely hallowed, as if the several hundred of us sitting in the imax theater in midtown at midnight as thursday bled into friday were treading on ground that while not exactly sacred, was ground that was indeed special and worthy of note. hallowed in a way that recognizes the build up, the hype, but most importantly the reality of having lived with someone’s fantastical worlds and words for over a decade. and the filmic ending of this series was indeed fantastical. i didn’t even mind the absurdly designed 3-d glasses resting on my face as i watched characters make their final pass on the screen, and listened as my fellow audience members sniffled, almost in unison, for pretty much the entire last third of the film.

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  • my dear little sister’s single life was officially decreed to be over when a dhoti-clad priest declared her to be now, and forever more, the partner/consort/companion to her new husband. this was the first time i noticed the following 2 things at a hindu wedding ceremony: a) a priest who performs a wedding ceremony with a healthy side of schtick; and b) the range of meanings, implicit and explicit, embedded throughout the 2+ hour ceremony. a small sampling:

1) to the bride: no matter how many children you have, always keep your husband at the forefront of your mind. and if that’s not clear enough: even if you have 10 kids, treat your husband like your 11th.
2) to no one in particular: it may just seem like this is just a boy and girl and a priest doing something religious up here on the stage while people may or may not pay attention, but what’s happening up here is important. (at this point, i think he turned and look explicitly at me as if to say: “stop distracting your sister! she is supposed to look demure and chaste, not sassy with a smirk on her face!”)
3) to the audience: marriage is performed over a rock because a rock symbolizes strength and you want marriage to withstand many different forces and pressures. it’s not just a rock for no reason! i mean, it’s a rock, sure, but do you know why it’s a rock? think about it. (at which point, the handful of people sitting in the first few rows who were paying attention and spoke tamil were howling with laughter.)

but like emerson notes in his essay “circles,” endings are always followed by beginnings; such is the wonder of a circle, of life as and existing within circles. i like to think of each of us as moving constellations, encountering one another’s constellations and thereby creating new ones for us to engage, ponder, and possibly even disengage; but like a circle, we move forever onward. and back. and so on.

so the trilogy progresses — and the others were right: this one is a “read it in one big chunk” kind of read. i feel like i’ve gotten through the toughest part which is the very premise for these books.  now it’s just a cheer-fest to the end, whatever that may be.

the hp books and films, although finished, also represent possibilities for new beginnings. as this article suggests, these books and the films and the rest of the transmediated franchise have provided enough “sentence starters” to last several lifetimes!

some may erroneously conclude that a wedding and marriage is the dissolving of an individual into the making of a pair. in contrast, i take a cue from khalil gibran’s poem “on marriage” and his 2nd stanza in particular:

Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

this new beginning is one of many i hope she and her husband will encounter, sometimes together and sometimes alone, but always in support of one another. in harmony, but not necessarily the same note; in tune, but not always the same chord.

still reading the hunger games — or: still reading the hunger games

what does it mean, i wonder, that my sabbatical begins with a dystopian novel in which the killing of kids by kids is not only a part of the plot, but the very basis upon which this story is based. how, i wonder, have my friends who enthusiastically recommended this book and the series to me, managed to read the book in one sitting? i keep stopping, partially due to the fact that suzanne collins’ writing evokes powerful emotions — namely tears that well up, particularly when i am reading out in public. i have about 20 pages left to read until the end of the first book and i really don’t know what is going to happen. i find myself wishing and hoping, like a naive child, for a happy ending. but what is happy in a world order in which stratified deprivation and outward power plays are the norm? it is perhaps a wonder, then, that collins weaves in not only occasional bits but robust strands of humanity throughout the text. friendships and family loyalties are written to reflect the specificity of the universe collins has created while still maintaining a sort of universal appeal outside of the horror of this society’s acceptable ways of being.

she certainly has me and millions of others talking — not only about the strong female protagonist, katniss everdeen (i especially love that she and her sister are named for plants; i always thought that geranium and rhododendron would work well as names for feisty gals with conviction), but collins seems to also have put our own society under a microscope. one might walk away thinking “well at least we don’t have kids killing each other for sport.” but do we perhaps have a society in which the pains of some benefit the pleasures of others? in which resources are scarce when they need not be? where vanity and superficiality rule in a time when we need the qualities of perseverance, honor, compassion, and criticality expressed by katniss and a few of the other adolescent characters that come alive in collins’ words.

i don’t mean for this post to be a book review; instead, i take this time and space to work through my complicated reading of ‘the hunger games’ to suggest something broader about the way texts can work their way into our consciousness.  as academics, are we able to write in a way that allows ideas to linger in the reader’s mind long after they have closed the page? do we have patience to allow an interaction that may last ten seconds in ‘real’ life to unfold over 3 or 4 pages in writing like sebald does? this seems a good moment as any to bring up ‘ways with words,’ the ethnography written by shirley brice heath that continues to surprise and educate me each time i read it. that text was and still is an example of patience in storytelling. can we imagine and enact that same practice of patience now? or are there too many demands on us to produce more! faster! now! and in many formats…? it’s as if we shouldn’t bother writing the middles of books; just the beginnings and ends, since that’s all that there seems to be time to read.

dystopia is having its way with me, and i hope in my next post i can surface with renewed optimism about a world that has been exhausting me lately.

…and we’re off!

i finally started reading the hunger games. all the words that have been used to describe it to me by friends who were enthusiastic in their praise — gripping, read it in one sitting, fantastic, great YA fiction, must read — ring true as do, however, these words: depressing, saddening, tear-jerking, heartbreaking, resilient, rollercoaster-of-emotions, anger, disbelief.

but read it i am and finish it i will and my yoda-esque notwithstanding, this book seems somehow like an appropriate text to read at the start of what i’m hoping will be twelve months of literary adventure of both the read and written variety. in some ways, this adventure began when i immersed myself in the writings of w.g. sebald earlier this summer while sitting in on my colleague’s seminar. i’ll devote whole posts to this wordsmith at a future date — largely because i have been affected by this writer in a way that i haven’t been in a long time by someone’s words on pages — but i mention him and his writings here as a strange but not entirely unrelated partner to suzanne collins’ adolescent protagonists. i am struck by how both authors use the specific to amplify the horror which in many ways, in their respective realms of reality, has become normalized. what are human beings willing to live with? and when are they moved to change?

i have been carrying these questions with me for several weeks now, and as i prepare my mental calendar to begin “work on the book,” i know that these questions and others — about humanity, our basic obligation toward one another, and the human capacity for compassion amidst the urgent calls for innovation — will continue to linger in my consciousness and find their way onto the pages containing stories about young men and a few young women and their teachers and mentors who commit themselves daily to the work of teaching and learning across boundaries, in between borders, and in the face of structural changes and budget cuts that seem to be stripped of any humane proclivity.

for now, however, katniss awaits…