noam chomsky

PBWs 4x meme

Four jobs I’ve had or currently have in my life:

1. secretary
2. nursing assistant
3. fourth grade teacher
4. director of graduate studies

Four countries I’ve been to:

1. Liechtenstein
2. Italy
3. France
4. Mexico

Four places I’d rather be right now:
(but only if I can have my family and the dogs with me)

1. Italy
2. Lake George
3. Devon
4. Chicago

Four foods I like to eat:

1. chicken piccata
2. tyroler knoedel mit sauerkraut
3. cheese fondue
4. the blue plate special at Pepper Sisters

Four personal heroes, past or present:

1. Eleanor Roosevelt
2. Ghandi
3. Margaret Sanger
4. Noam Chomsky

Four books you’ve read or are currently reading:

1. The Guide to Lodging in Italy’s Monasteries
2. Seducing the demon : writing for my life / Erica Jong
3. The Chrysalids /John Wyndham
4. Mr. Clarinet /Nick Stone

Four words or phrases you would like to see used more often:

1. How does it feel to hit the NYT bestseller list?
2. Did you hear that Gore announced he’s running?
3. Boy was I wrong to vote for Bush. I am truly sorry.
4. Thank you.

Four reasons for ending a friendship:

I can’t maintain a friendship with anybody who is knowingly cruel (to anybody, or any animal). Manipulative people, disingenuous people, selfish people… and of course, love me, love my dog.

Four smells that make you feel good about the world:

1. ripe tomatoes in the sun
2. a sweaty Mathematician
3. the air after a thunderstorm
4. lavender

Four favorite things you did as a kid:

1. The Lincoln Avenue Library
2. Visiting the great aunts in the country
3. Going to the restaurant with my father
4. Summer nights, watching fireflies

My question:

Four songs that, when you hear them, stick in your head for weeks:

1. Downbound Train (Springsteen)
2. Red Dirt Girl (EmmyLou)
3. You Don’t Know Me (Ray Charles)
4. New York State of Mind (Billy Joel)

in which I am rescued by PBW

I really meant to write the next post about plot/story yesterday. Then I meant to write it today. And now it’s almost midnight, and I don’t have enough wits about me to write something I really have to think about.

Then PBW threw out this meme. I am saved.

Eight random facts about me:

1. I first got braces at age 28; I made the orthodontist take them off two years later because I refused to get married with a metal mouth.

2. My eyesight is really, really bad. I wore contacts from age fourteen (yes, in 1970 I was wearing contacts) until age 42, when my eyes simply refused to cooperate. Every day I put on my glasses and wish for contacts.

3. I adore dogs. I especially love smallish dogs (10-15 pounds); I would have ten of them if the Mathematician would only see the light. I’d have a couple Havanese, a couple of small terriers of various kinds (Norfolk, Australian, etc), and the rest would be rescues.

4. When I left academia and started working out of the house, I stopped doing housework of any kind. Now the fantastic Isabel comes for one day a week and whips the whole house and all the laundry into shape. If money were no issue, I’d pay her a huge salary with full benefits and she’d only have to work two days a week. Because she’s that good.

5. I am really bad at cards and board games both. My brain doesn’t work that way. Or at least that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

6. I like rap (not all, but a lot of it), and I always have, since the beginning.

7. If money were no issue, I’d spend all my time taking art courses and playing with paint, pastels, pencils, and every kind of fiber-related material. And listening to books on tape while I worked.

8. My daughter is taller, skinnier, far prettier, smarter, more politically savvy, and better read than I was at her age. She eats what she likes and wears a size two; she rarely breaks out, and she’s got both the Mathematician’s math genes and my storytelling/writing stuff. My biggest and bestest accomplishment ever: the Girlchild.

I’m supposed to tag EIGHT people, which is really way too much. I can put down a couple names. None of these people will play, but there will be eight names:

Shonda Rhimes, Alice Munro, Robyn Bender, Al Gore, Annie Proulx, Noam Chomsky, Anna Quinlan, A.S. Byatt


PS Speaking of Shonda Rhimes, this is reason enough for my great big ole girlcrush.

Miss Lack, Noam Chomsky, autopsies

Preface: Noam Chomsky is not in need of a post mortem. He’s alive and well and will live (I hope) for many more productive years.

Yesterday at a short meeting, I ran into someone I know through the Girlchild. She mentioned to me that she was reading Homestead and really liking it, which of course is always lovely to hear. Then she said that she had come across a sentence that she couldn’t diagram.

My first reaction: sheer panic. Please, I said, tell me you’re not hoping I’ll remember the sentence.

Luckily that wasn’t what she was trying to get at. She meant that she thought the sentence worked, but didn’t understand its structure.

Pause here for a flashback to my fourth grade classroom, Miss Lack with her beehive hairdo, and the blackboard where we learned to diagram sentences the old fashioned way. I liked taking sentences apart to see how they work, and I was good at it. In fact, Miss Lack was the first teacher to give me the idea that I was good at writerly things.

Now forward in time to graduate school and Chomskyan syntax, where taking a scalpel to a sentence had a different purpose — and was interesting for more complex reasons.

And back again to the here and now.

When I’m writing a story, I never, ever diagram a sentence. I just don’t think that way. Storytelling glides along on another plane, and wants nothing to do with dissecting noun phrases and subordinate clauses. Thus: I would have been happy to let this conversation drift away to be forgotten, but then this friend did email the sentence in question.

Now I feel obliged to reply (Catholic schoolgirl automatic response no. 23). So I looked at it, the sentence in isolation. That is, here is the sentence, taken out of the warm nest of the story and pinned to the electronic autopsy table:

When she looked at the available men in Rosenau, Wainwright’s Katharina could see no promise in any of them but of children and farm work, things that interested her not in the least.

Against my better judgment, ignoring the voice in my head screaming PROCRASTINATION, I looked at this sentence, which really is composed of three sentences draped over and around each other in cozy comaraderie. For a moment I considered trying to locate the old software that allowed me to produce a classic tree diagram ala transformational grammar, but that way lies madness. Or at least OS X 9, a place I never go these days.

So instead, a completely ad hoc approach that would satisfy neither Miss Lack nor Professor Chomsky. The three sentences:

1. She ||looked || (at the available men) (in Rosenau).
(transform into a relative wh-clause)
2. WK || could see || no promise (in any ((of them)))
|| [promise of] (children*) (farm work*)
3. Things* interested her {negation strategy}.
(transform into subordinate clause)

After this I’ll I have to spend some time putting the poor thing back together and tucking it back into the story.

book lists

This list of one hundred (so-called) best books is everywhere on the web. I don’t much like the dopey thing because it’s so simple minded. You’re supposed to bold face the ones you’ve read, never mind if you forgot it immediately, or tried to read it but fell asleep, or couldn’t read it as a twenty year old but loved it at forty. Lists like this are just ways of broadcasting biases and pretensions — but they do make for some great arguments, like the one I am having currently with my almost-fifteen year old daughter.

She reads, a lot, widely. Stephen King and James Baldwin, Ann Patchett and Louisa May Alcott. Dante and the unedited Anne Frank. I encourage, always, or I did, until she came home from the library with Ulysses under her arm, announcing that it was the best book of the last century, and she was going to read it.

The first question is, why didn’t I just say good on you! let me know what you think! — inclusive of exclamation marks. Why did I say oh no, not Ulysses.

What a dopey thing to do; she’ll be fifteen next week, and she lives to challenge me. She insisted on knowing why I don’t like this novel that minds greater than mine have decreed to be a masterpiece. So I told her: I dare you to find ten people who have actually read it, all the way through. You can’t, because it’s just plain hard to read, and not worth the effort. To which she said: I am going to read it. To which I said (mea culpa): Don’t do it just to vex me, you’ve got better ways to spend your time. Like emptying the dishwasher.

And why did I get all crazy? Because Ulysses is supposed to be one of the great masterpieces of the twentieth century, and that says to me that things were pretty messed up, and still are. To me Ulysses is the ultimate literary sacred cow. With one long egocentric, blathering rant sprinkled with some vivid images, Joyce brought in the era of form-before-story, which the literati still hold dear, and which I will always protest. So I told my daughter this, and she laughed. Of course. Wow mama, said she. Ulysses gets you wound up. To which I said, finally, go ahead and read it, and see if you can figure out whether it really is a masterpiece.

A half hour later she came back and asked me to make up my own list of a hundred best novels (or even just fifteen) that she should read. Which threw me, for a moment, until I thought to ask her to define ‘best’. She’s off contemplating that now. I hope she gets distracted, but I fear she won’t. Then I will present her with this list, and ask her to pick one to start with.

My list of fifteen best books that

  • you’d be glad to have with you on a long plane trip
  • you should know something about if you happen to run into Noam Chomsky when he has an hour to talk
  • are good to read when you need to laugh
  • I personally consider true classics
  • are still read in high school and college courses, but don’t deserve to be
  • I read because I had to as a student, but am glad to have read
  • I read because I had to as a student, and have forgotten almost completely, despite the fact that I wrote long papers about them
  • everybody says I should read, but can’t make myself pick up
  • I tried to like, but couldn’t
  • made me think harder than I wanted to
  • helped me understand the way men think, and are different from women
  • made me see the way monsters live inside all of us
  • I re-read, because they give me hope