Scientists believe a molecule which controls male erections may also have a profound impact on the brain.
30 June 2009
"Just because your genetics show you came from a place, should that mean you can lay claim to that group of people or place now?"
This quote concludes a BBC piece, Americans seek their African roots, about how DNA tests can reveal one's genetic origins. Apparently (I didn't realize) a lot of well-known African-Americans (such as Oprah) have done this recently, and thousands of others have followed suit.
This sort of genetic testing has been available for years; it's one of the first wave of targeted ads you see when you start doing online Jewish genealogy research.
According to the BBC piece, some African communities give citizenship and other honours to Americans who come to visit their place of origin. The quote is from the editor of Asante magazine, Ofori Anor, who doesn't appreciate this practice.
But to me the point is not so much laying claim as making the connection. Perhaps Mr Anor does not understand this, being from Ghana. Because a lot of Europeans don't understand this either. Some of the snottier ones even make fun of us Yanks and our family trees. But they don't know what it's like to not know where you come from. To not know, say, whether you're Scottish or Irish. To not know exactly which little German town, or big one, your ancestors came from. Let alone the continent of Africa! Let alone being brought to the New World involuntarily, as a slave!
No, it isn't about laying claim. It's about knowing. It's about putting unanswered questions to rest. And finally, it's about the relief of recognizing something you knew was deep within you, but you didn't know where it came from or why you had it or what it meant.
Image credit: DNA image from the Image Library of Biological Macromolecules based in Jena, Germany, which maintains a large archive of spectacular computer graphics of DNA, RNA, and proteins, via UCMP Berkeley.
29 June 2009
28 June 2009
26 June 2009
25 June 2009
I think not.
I am languishing in the office on the most beautiful summer day. All I can think of is
Not sure yet in which order.
I tried to "claim" this blog on Technorati, but no result after an hour and what felt like a zillion "site experiencing backend problems" notices. Note to Technorati: maybe you should change "backend" to "back office" or something less ... rearish? In any case, it does not bode well for a site with "techno" in its name.
And the minutes tick by...
I browsed the current issue and for me, the following were were absolute stand-outs.
Well. When I see Sister Sheila step outfrom Sunday Times,
Face paint up like Jezebel
Royal blue satellite dish of a Sunday hat
Kick off to one side
Breasts mountain ranging
Strapless, under skirt suit the color of Caribbean Sea...
...maybe she wore
Red Door and he
from Orange Skies
A flower named for a bird.
A bird swooping like rain.
Rain the size of an island.
An island creased like my hand....
Cover Art: "Before someone sees" by Ward Minnis, from the collection of Eddie Minnis.
24 June 2009
St Boniface: 1st on the in-commune waiting list. We are just waiting for a phone call, hopefully in early July.
Athenée Charles Jansses: 12th on the in-commune waiting list. Who knows, we might still get a place here.
Athenée Uccle 1: 69th on the out-of-commune waiting list (and shame you cannot see the detail of this building; it has separate entrances for 'garçons' and 'filles' with the words spelled out in the arches of the doors).
Notre Dame des Champs: We are so far down the list, and there is so little movement on the list, I have stopped phoning. The bastards won: my girls will be split up. Do the politicians care? No. Can the school do anything about it? No, apparently I am not influential enough.
23 June 2009
On the whole, I have to say Yes. We started this September without one of our founding and most prolific members, who left Brussels to go back to the UK. We had one brand-new member and you never know how it's going to go no matter how well they present. Happily, ten months later, it is like this person has been with us for ages. The group has re-knit itself, once again.
And what have we accomplished? Well, one of our members put on the play that we'd workshopped from start to finish. Another organized/facilitated two very successful music-&-literature salons (that's a photo of me reading at the first one), apart from making significant headway into a long work of fiction. Yet another is in the final stages of setting up his own publishing company, a project that's been in the works for quite some time. Another had her second and third books published.
Oh, and we got to meet and read poems with Jackie Kay.
And while all of us have made strides into our work, in our various ways, it was fitting that we ended the season by reading the beginning of one member's completed first draft. For the past several years this member -- I'll call him J -- has been quietly submitting chapter after chapter of his memoir. Since he doesn't submit in chronological order, I didn't notice until he mentioned it that he'd finished the first draft. To have stuck with this project through to completion is (how I am learning this!) a real achievement.
Two somber notes. Leila will be leaving us for the green and pleasant land. She will be missed! And Lucy continues to fight cancer. Lucy, if you're reading this, know that we're thinking of you.
22 June 2009
A Week of Nights
On Monday it was a wood floor, stripped
until it was nothing but light.
On Tuesday it was an eggshell, from the inside.
I could find no cracks.
On Wednesday there were bats as well,
but they couldn't crack it, either.
On Thursday, at last, I broke its code.
When I slept, I dreamed of neon.
On Friday the constellations
came alive and started roaming.
On Saturday they all drank too much
and were out until four in the morning!
On Sunday it was a blackboard,
but too far away to read.
Now Monday again. A blackboard again.
This time, the slate wiped clean.
photo credit: Saki Teke
20 June 2009
STOP PRESS! My poem Button is up on YouTube!
There are two versions. One is with me reading and the other is with fellow-writer-storyteller Vincent Eaton reading. I wrote the poem (more about it here), but the concept and execution of the video is all Vincent.
I am very excited. Please enjoy... and let us know what you think!
19 June 2009
The goal I set for myelf, each week, was to do 300 words each day, Mon-Fri, for a total of 1500 per week on my novel-in-progress (oh doesn't that sound grand!). I figured whatever I didn't manage Mon-Thurs I could make up on Friday.
I have been doing between 100 and 150 Mon-Thurs. I think most of this is quality and won't be jettisoned when editing later. How do I know this? Because before, I was fooling around, making notes, asking "what if" and "what if then". It was easy to rack up the words doing that! But now I have to actually write a scene and it is hard! It is a lot harder than I thought it would be. I don't know why. It's like wading in taffy. Hence the taffy-wade word count... it is moving veeeerrrry slooooooowly.
I'm reducing expectations because otherwise, I'll be too discouraged. Already I see my weekly targets mounting, and the actuals lagging.
So now I am going for 150 words a day, Mon-Thurs. On Friday I will go for 500. That makes a new total of 1100 per week.
By the time I go on my course in November, I should have about 15,000 words (factoring in the school holidays, of course, when word count will plummet to 0).
But who knows. Maybe I'll get faster. That would be something.
It is not a long poem so please read it, you won't be disappointed.
Hint: I cannot decide whether my favourite line is
poetry has four wheels, two wings and a pair of false teeth
poetry is all the juicy bits in the juiciest order
The end is absolutely perfect.
PS I'm posting the '6-a-clock news' one as Poem du Jour in the sidebar.
18 June 2009
It was after the girls had gone to school, before I went to the office. I had washed and dried it after the flood so I snatched it off the dryer, took down into the kitchen and shoved it deep into the poubelle. Conveniently the girls had had eggs for breakfast, so I buried it under eggshells and a bacon-grease paper towel.
Now I will never have to open the towel-drawer again and see it there, half-hidden, among the other lovelier ones (from Habitat, I must confess). Never again will I have to debate with myself, à la angel vs devil, "Loathe it."/"It's useful."/"I hate it."/"It works!"
Ah, but to purge is bliss....
17 June 2009
I may have sussed out the secret the making submissions:
Always keep at least one ball in the air.
With at least one poem "out there", you can stay optimistic. No need to dwell on the rejection received, the competition not won (or placed, or honourably mentioned)... If you've still got a ball in the air, you focus on that one.
And juggling requires momentum, too. And momentum is good, because then, you don't get stuck. You just keep printing out pages, licking stamps, mailing packets. The waiting is hard, but hope is better than nothing.
I've got three submissions out now -- three different packs of poems. One was to a competition. Scratch that one off the list. The second will take at least three months to answer; par for the course, I can live with that. The third one I should hear about any day now. You never know but fingers crossed, it may be good news.
16 June 2009
Today I found a goodie called Smartish Place, a Baltimore-based independent literary magazine run since 1999 by a group of dedicated volunteers and interns. I found them via a poem on Poetry Daily. That's the cover of the latest issue over there.
SP runs a great feature called Poets Q & A, where a featured poet takes questions from SP readers. Among the ones who have participated so far are Bill Hicok and Eavan Boland. Sherman Alexie is up next... Have to admit I have never heard of him but he sounds interesting. Writes for young adults as well as poetry, and if his website is anything to go by, is pretty prolific.
PS I liked this poem from Issue 10: I Must Admit by Clarinda Harriss.
15 June 2009
Having expressed to the world on facebook that I was feeling a wee bit moody, one friend reminded me that
It's just life - enjoy it. After all "life is a sexually transmitted disease which inevitably leads to death."I just thought I'd share that.
12 June 2009
I find this poem simply luscious but the first line is hard to translate. Literally, it is "She is standing (or, she stands) on my eyelids". These surrealists were completely obsessed with eyes! The impression this makes on me is something like, the lover is emblazened (or embedded?) on the poet's vision -- as when an image is burned into one'e eyes, like a photographic negative. The original ends with a rhymed couplet but I found I could include more rhyme without being too obvious or twee about it... Well, I hope so anyway. If you disagree let me know!
L'amoureuse -- The Lover
I can see her through my eyelids -- there she stands
And her hair is in my hair,
Her shape is the shape of my hands,
Her colour is the colour of my eyes,
She disappears into my shadow
Like a stone does, into the sky.
Her eyes are always open
and she does not let me sleep.
Her dreams, in the full light of day
Are brighter than the sun,
And make me laugh, and cry and laugh,
And talk without having anything to say.
10 June 2009
Dear Ms Cook,
We regret that at this time, we cannot publish your poems. Best of luck with your writing career. By the way, your bum looks big in that sonnet.
Check out Very Like a Whale's series showcasing a diverse group of poetry editors, who give the skinny what they do, how they do it, and what they'd like to see from you. (via Blotting Paper)
09 June 2009
We are open for submission throughout the year. Be sure you’re a reader of contemporary poetry. We love simultaneous submissions as long as you notify us if a poem is accepted elsewhere. We consider translations if you can provide the original version as well (and we will consider exceptions for good reasons). We ask for first serial rights, and copyright remains with the author. Anything that has appeared in an online or print journal is previously published. Posting drafts to an online workshop or blog is not previously published provided they’re removed prior to submission. Anything the editor can Google is previously published. Please do not send work more than once per six months unless we request otherwise. Don’t ever send revisions of work still under consideration. Please feel free to query if you do not hear back from us within two months.
Why aren't more poetry journals like this, online and off?
08 June 2009
(pm) I have 20 minutes to write 300 words. OK. Go!
(later) Is this the key to time? You don't find it, you make it?
(am) I am wide awake at 6 am, so got up and did yoga until 7. First made some notes as head was full of ideas. A little manic, I'm getting. Coinciding with the arrival of the solstice? Scary thought. The yoga helped. Trying to stay calm. Breathing. Remembering to breathe.
(later) At Youngest's flute lesson. Need a nap. Want to get a second wind. Word count will be shot to hell unless I do 300 words tonight.
Sitting, waiting for the bus, shivering, wearing 3 layers including raincoat and turtleneck. Clearly insufficient. Sun, can you please come back now?
Managed to get 300 words in before having to leave for appointment. If I do about 500 words later, I will have made this week's quota.
Finally new school waiting list stats were posted by Uccle I. We are now at waiting list place 69, 11 better than last time. Will check the other schools later this month -- another letter has been sent out by the government group known as CIRI, which is supposed to
Hallelujah, I had a breakthrough, and started to write a scene. I'd been making a lot of notes -- much needed -- but I knew these were not the real thing. Then a couple of days ago I typed, "DESCRIBE THE PLACE, ALREADY!" I knew I had to describe the setting, from a character's viewpoint. I don't know why this was so difficult. What in the world am I fighting? Anyway so I started the scene. Is writing a book really like this?
07 June 2009
I took the Eldest to London this weekend for some mother-daughter bonding. When thinking about it I realized that we had done something pretty remarkable: for relatively little expense we went from Brussels to London and back in a single day; to put this in historical context, even 20 years ago this would have been unthinkable.
Until the Eurotunnel opened up in 1994, there was almost no casual travel between the UK and "the continent". It still surprises many people, I think, on both sides of the Channel. As an American this is difficult to understand -- the train now takes less than 2 hours each way, and you gain an hour in the morning which means you get a whole day out in London if you take the last train back at 19h30. As I write, the Euro is 0,87 Pounds, or 1 Pound is 1,14 Euros, which is about as good as it's ever been for us with Euros. In previous years it was painful even to look at prices in Pounds... Now it is practically a party! Consumer goods are not cheap or plentiful in Belgium....choice is bizarrely limited and customer service is generally consists of ignoring the potential customer until they leave the shop. Throw in Boots, Gap, and Marks & Spencer and the money you save pays for the train fare.
I realize that we're an unusual combination, Eldest and I. We travel on US passports with Belgian residence cards; she, especially, having English relatives, has one foot on the Continent and the other in Britain. She's grown up with Eurostar; it's only a few years older than she is. She's far from being a Eurobrat and I am proud to see her move easily through both anglophone and francophone cultures.... Far more easy for her than it is for me. But then, too, I still see London as a sort of wonderland, and I used to practically pinch myself every time the train pulled into Waterloo station, trying to contain my excitement at spotting Battersea power station, glimpses of the Thames, and later the London Eye. St Pancras is gorgeous and full of much-appreciated amenities, but I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Waterloo, even paying 30p to use the toilets, and running to make the train on the way back with a dozen bagels from the Bagel Factory vendor...
06 June 2009
Me: No, it can be made up.... [Launching into explanation involving Mika lyrics. Child's eyes glaze over.]
The Youngest: Hm. OK. But you know, it has to rhyme.
Me: It has to rhyme to be a song?
The Youngest: Yes.
05 June 2009
Le Dernier Poème
The Last Poem
I have dreamed of you so much,
Walked so much, talked so much,
Loved so much your shadow,
That there is nothing left for me of you.
I am left to be no more
than a shadow among shadows,
One hundred times
more shadow than shadow,
The shadow that will come again and again
to your sundrenched life.
04 June 2009
Women in Spain
I left the wedding party, headed for the coast.
The train lurched with well-groomed dogs and their matching matrons.
I tried to take up as little space as I could. I thought,
don't try to do anything. Just get to Alicante.
Off-season, the promenade was empty, a forlorn aisle,
wobbly chairs on one side, bare tables on the other.
I lost my way to the pension, the back streets
tracking through the red light district,
where putas stood on corners, hips jutting, coltish.
They crossed themselves as I crossed the street, trying to avoid them.
Like I might be a curse.
Or the latest competition.
At last I found the Hostal Mariá de Jesús. The Señora looked me over,
then asked for cash. A moustached sister counted it
between drags on a cigarette. For the first time that day,
I wanted my mother.
The Señora led me upstairs and unlocked my room. The door
swung inward. There was a single bed, a crucifix and a mirror
where I spent a good hour, gazing at myself in my wedding dress --
and then another, struggling to undo its zipper.
The Dolce Vita Diaries are "Stories and Recipes from an Italian Olive Grove." I found out about it too late to win a free copy from Scott Pack at Me and My Big Mouth, but the blog is so gorgeous I think I might have to buy one.... and one for every cook-or-Italy lover on my Christmas list. Latest recipes on the blog were Wild Chicory Spaghetti and Baked Trout with lemon oil and flat-leaf parsley.
Ah, la vita è bella....
03 June 2009
Teen panel selects alternative Orange prize shortlist. None of their choices match the official shortlist, and they selected Bernardine Evaristo's "Blonde Roots" as the winner. Shame that there's no prize money in it.... I'd be pleased to be on either list (let's face it!) but knowing my own daughter's stringent standards for what she reads, I might even be prouder of being on the teen list!
The official £30,000 Orange prize winner will be announced this evening.
The emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert -- in anything. ... Ten thousand hours is equivalent to three hours a day, or 20 hours a week, of practice over ten years... It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery.pp 196-197.
For some reason, I find this totally inspiring. So mastery is possible... all I have to do is put in about 9,000 more hours.
02 June 2009
One of the category winners will be awarded the title of Book of the Year at The Borders Book Festival, on June the 19th.
All in all, I have to say, it has been a pretty good month. I had a breakthrough and consequently made a submission I am very pleased with. I worked on poetry a lot, which is hard to quantify. I once went on a writing retreat at Arvon with a lot of novel writers. In fact all of them were writing novels except me. They would sit around and talk about their word counts. I'd joke with them by saying, 'Yeah, I cut 3 this morning....'
I also did some math and came up with a plan to help me write the fiction, which doesn't come as easily as the poetry. Ironically I hadn't been writing much poetry, so I thought out most of a plot for a novel, and now that it comes time to write the darn thing, back again comes the poetry! But I will not turn down the poetry muse when she visits -- that's a cardinal rule -- so she's going to share a room with a daily word count, 5 days a week. I am looking at going on an Arvon course in November, to help with the novel, and my goal is to have 25,000 words by the time I get there. I've allowed for holidays and visits from the parents and if I keep it up, it's a feasible goal.
I fully expect to cut half at least later, but for now the point is to generate, no internal editor, no internal censor.
PS TO VIEW CALENDAR: Use blue bar to move horizontally. To scroll, simply put cursor over calendar and use that scrolly-wheel thingy on your mouse.
01 June 2009
We are getting our annual spell of summer weather. The sky is just like the one in the Magritte painting here ("Black Magic"). On Sunday I take long walk in the morning. It is still cool enough to walk on the sunny side of the street, so I do: this rarest of treats. At the carrefour of the rue du Bailli and rue Simonis there are four cafés. All of them always have tables out on the pavement. I pass by at just after 10, and most of the tables were already taken. Fortunately, my intentions are elsewhere....
I continue down the rue Faider and cut over to avenue Louise. With hardly any traffic this tree-lined street becomes very pleasant. Sadly, Place Stéphanie is littered with debris -- it looks like a real tip. The sun highlights every scrap, and without the trees, the stretch from there to Place Louise feels dirty and dusty. It's ironic as this is where all of the "chi-chi" shops are. In Brussels, at least, a reminder: you can shop at MaxMara but it doesn't make you any cleaner than anyone else.
I turn off a side street and head for my favourite café, with the Sunday paper. Without the BF it isn't the same -- he's in the UK for the weekend -- but I've never minded solitude. I send him a text message while waiting for my cappucino.
By noon the terrace is starting to get the full sun: time to pay up. I am stuck on the sudoku anyway. Î swing down through the Petit Sablon, still walking in the sunshine. Despite the tourists, this neighbourhood remains one of my favourites. Often you can hear students from the conservatory practicing their instruments. The music floats overhead, from the windows of surrounding apartments. This used to be a graveyard -- something the tour guides don't tell you.
Along rue Royale preparations are underway for the 20k race later in the afternoon. In Place Royale, all the windows facing the square are covered with the same blue-sky Magritte motif. It's in honour of the opening of the new Magritte Musuem, part of the Musuem of Fine Arts. Today this motif matches the sky.... an effect Magritte would approve of.
I'd been planning to indulge myself with a browse through the English bookstore, but I arrive to find it closed. Oh well. These things happen. I nip into a Delhaize "Express" to grab some mint for a salad. This is a real luxury -- the grocery store, not the mint; just a few years ago none of the chains could open on a Sunday. If you ran out of milk or forgot to buy mint you had to take your chances with a corner store, or haul your a** out of bed to get to a market by noon -- nice in theory, difficult in practice. I buy the mint and get to the bus stop just as my bus pulls up.
On the way back we pass some workers outside the big bank on rue Ravenstein. They are putting up a sign: BNP Paribas, with a green logo. This is the third time this bank has changed names since I came here. The bank's old name, "Fortis," is on the line below -- an afterthought, or a concession. I predict it will be phased out within 12 months... Plus ça change.
Most [acclaimed poets] could have given up their day jobs in a second. The reason they didn’t was that they didn’t want poetry to be their job. It’s much easier to be inspired in the course of normal working life than sitting in front of a blank piece of paper, because the problem with giving up your job as a probation officer or a mortician or a teacher is that often it is the daily contact with humanity that provides the inspiration for your work.
While across the pond on NPR*, Already Poor, Poets Don't Much Mind the Recession:
Poets and those who publish them are used to earning next to nothing for their work. ...
"I just gave a reading last week, and much to my surprise, I sold 15 copies," says Keith Taylor, a poet and teacher at the University of Michigan. "I thought I might sell two."
*National Public Radio