Starry Night

I am a bit behind because of travel but I promise blog posts are coming. In lieu of a “new” post, I was cleaning out my Google Drive today and found this. This was my college admissions essay from way back in 2002. I always love going back and looking at old writing of mine and this is still one of my favorite pieces. Enjoy!

Starry Night. Vincent Van Gogh.

The Starry Night. Vincent Van Gogh. 1889. Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), New York.

Swirling stars…an eternal battle in the sky. I understood that battle well from the moment I set eyes on ‘Starry Night’, Van Gogh’s masterpiece. In the middle of a battle myself simply called ‘the art project’ by Madame, The chaotic swirls and menacing colors seemed my approaching doom…I might fail.

Failure, you must understand, was something I had dreaded my entire school career and something that had become a very real presence in Madame’s French class of my junior year. I’d fought to find my bearings in the class from day one yet I’d eventually found a comfortable stride and was doing fine with the grammar and verb exercises. Maybe that should have been a clue to me that there was trouble on the horizon.

Then came the Art Unit. Never underestimate the fear and awe I now hold in that one word…art. The Art Unit was the pride and joy of Madame who, using the masterpieces of Manet, Renoir, and Degas, taught her students an appreciation of art as well as the subjunctive tense. Within the unit itself was a mammoth project that took over every one of Madame’s students’ lives once we received our artist and mission. Mine was Vincent Van Gogh, the tortured artist who was doomed to be a failure in his own day. I knew little about Van Gogh when I began, knew more about myself…or so I’d thought. As I began the research for the project, my routine in French was broken, both at home and school. I felt like I was being stretched to my limit. Madame was asking me to interpret, see things that weren’t there, and understand the truths of life that the long dead painters were still saying through their masterpieces.

At first, I failed to understand how the truths of Monet were mine but gradually, I began to understand and see. The French painters were all about light, beauty, color…life. And life was all about falling down before walking for the first time. It was a concept that scared me when I first thought of it. I need to fail in order to succeed? The answer was no, I didn’t need to fail but I needed to understand that I was going to make mistakes along the way. My first mistake had been in thinking a mistake was a failure. Looking at the rough sketches of Van Gogh’s masterpiece, I saw the mistakes that he’d made. Yet, he learned from those mistakes and, in the end, created a piece of artwork that is still held in awe today.

I did not fail on the Art Unit but I made plenty of mistakes along the way, mistakes I now understood I should celebrate instead of mourn. The mistakes were not always trivial such as an etre verb always needs agreement or that beaucoup is always followed by de. Some taught me about my own virtues and vices such as patience and procrastination. From my own mistakes and those I saw in the masters, I ultimately realized that the French painters had their own mistakes to teach me and, if I just looked between the swirls and starbursts, I would see the success within the mistakes. Not only in a Van Gogh, but in my own masterpieces as well.

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Some 2012 Goals

Now that Christmas is behind me and I’m comfortably hanging at home for this week, I’ve been thinking about 2012. I have a lot of goals for myself in this coming year but I have mainly been thinking about the goals that directly affect this blog. For the most part, I use this blog for my book and movie musings and I’d like to keep that this way. I think I share plenty about myself that way so telling you about what I did at work seems silly (and I have another blog for that).

In July of this year, I got what I called my mysterious illness that it took them until September to decide was TMJ and that I am still dealing with on a daily basis. That sort of threw off my nice groove off on lots of things. However, new year and new goals.

I feel I did well with my reading challenge last year – I got through a lot of books on my list that I felt I should have read by now and found some new favorites along the way. Two of which found their way under my tree this year – yay! I love getting books for Christmas – there is nothing better….except maybe an Amazon gift card so I can do some damage on my wish list.

I also blew my Goodreads challenge for the year out of the water – I clearly underestimated how many books I read in a year – 122 books down last year! So, now I have to come up with a new reading challenge but I am drawing a blank. I thought about reading the books on my to-read list in exact order but I feel like I would cheat on that challenge really fast and it would limit me in a sense. What if I found a new author I really love from one book and want to read the rest of his/her work? I would have to have too many rules or caveats to make that one work. So, I’ll have to work on a different idea or maybe just sort of let my reading go wherever it wants this year.

But one goal I am sure of is this year, and I will make it a rule, is to review a book or write something on this blog at least once a week. I like writing on this blog when I remember to so if I set reminders for myself, I am hoping this will become a habit of mine. I have tons of blog post ideas saved up on things I want to write about – I just need to make the time and let’s face it, I have lots of time on my hands most of the time. I just need to make the effort and I figure by writing it here, I’ll be held to it.

I head back west on New Year’s Day and then the new year will begin. In the meantime, I’m off to enjoy the rest of my time home.

Always nice to visit with Jane

From Austenprose, excellent Austen site!

I came to Jane Austen very late. It wasn’t until high school that I sat myself down to read Pride & Prejudice once a friend gave me a lovely collected works of hers. And while I enjoyed it, I wasn’t quite caught yet. It wasn’t until my semester in Bath, taking a class on Jane Austen, that I become a Janeite for good. Something about her snarkiness, her brilliant observation of the small world she lived in, finally captivated me and I’ve been hooked ever since. I don’t often wonder why if I’m being honest. I simply found a kindred spirit in her books, a familiarity that just makes her a favorite author. I have my favorite book, my favorite character, and my favorite hero (All from Persuasion if you’re interested in knowing). But mostly, I adore her tone, her style, her complete knowledge of herself that let her explore in such a narrow field of topics some of the most interesting characters we have the luck to read about still today.

Reading Austen in the spring just seems to fit. Pride & Prejudice is nothing if not spring-like, full of possibility and hope, the belief that everything will work out in the end, even for Lydia and Wickham. In fact, her books all fit into seasons for me. Early spring is Northhanger Abbey with its creepy early spring gothic tone, Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility fit the spring renewal theme, the sense that the stories are only just beginning as we say goodbye. Mansfield Park and Emma have the sophistication of summer, the heat and oppression of the sun seem to lurk in the heroine’s journeys of those books. Persuasion, my favorite, is universally acknowledged as an “autumnal” book, a book of second chances and of people later in life, who have the knowledge of spring and summer to guide them to their conclusion. Fascinating isn’t it? No matter how often I read her works or read essays on her work or even watch a film adapted from a book I am struck by another facet to her writing that seems to change the game yet again.

Austen’s gravestone at Winchester Cathedral. Photo by me!

This spring I got around to reading the collection of essays aptly named A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Great Writers on Why We Read Jane Austen and the English geek in me thoroughly enjoyed it. Not only is it fun to read Austen, it is fun to read people talking about Austen, people who are far smarter and more observant readers than I am. As writers, they marvel at what a spinster from the country could do with limited experiences and knowledge. They puzzle over what makes her books last and finally conclude she was a genius, of the sort that come around once in a lifetime. On paper, she shouldn’t have succeeded and the fact that she did and still does hundreds of years after her death truly seems to astonish the essay writers in this collection which I enjoyed. You like to think that some people, however unlikely, can thwart the experts. In fact, I am sure Jane is still having a laugh about that somewhere. Some of the essays are definitely more of a scholarly bent, others more on a personal level, but all are trying to get at that mysterious ingredient of Austen’s that keeps us reading and none really succeed but I commend them for trying. And I commend Jane for avoiding detection once more.