Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Close Reading of Frank O’Hara's “Why I Am Not a Painter”

A close reading of “Why I Am Not a Painter” by Frank O’Hara reveals that it demonstrates many of the elements of the New York School poets that we have learned about in the class Modern & Contemporary American Poetry. This essay will examine how O’Hara arrives at the conclusion that indeed he really is a poet and not a painter, and review what O’Hara can do in a poem that he believes is not possible in a painting.

First, it is important to understand the tenets of the New York School poets. We can see several of them demonstrated as we read through this poem. The poem reads like a diary, where O’Hara is telling of several events that seem to have really occurred as he interacted with his friend Mike Goldberg (the painter). This gives the poem a deep sense of truth and realism. The poem is not a narrative. It does not tell a story sequentially from start to finish. It is not clear, for example, whether the poem about orange is written before or after the painting with the sardines. In total, we must also realize that this poem is a meta-poem in that the example of “orange” represents the titular question of “being a poet and not a painter”. Just as the writer in the poem “hasn’t even mentioned orange”, O’Hara hasn’t actually mentioned why he is not a painter. But he has ultimately gone through the same process of discovery that is detailed in the poem. The poem uses these New York School techniques to do all of the things that we ultimately conclude cannot be done in a painting (more on this later).

Next, we look at why O’Hara concludes that he is a poet and not a painter. Of course, this is clearly stated in the first line. But then he says “I think I would rather be a painter”. This appears to be in jest – setting up the humorous situation that he details in which the painter can essentially put sardines into the painting for no reason, and then title it “Sardines” even though ultimately there is hardly a remnant remaining of the concept (since “It was too much” and had to be mostly redacted). O’Hara is implying here that being a poet requires more discipline and intellectual honesty than being a painter. The other reason O’Hara illustrates as to why he would “rather be a painter” is the physical limit of the painting. The poem about orange can take O’Hara in many directions, even across many poems, with the poet having to struggle with all of these ramifications. The painter need not worry about this, as he simply crams anything that is needed into the canvas. Although O’Hara decries this aspect of poetry, it is thinly veiled and it is clear that he is playing devil’s advocate and actually prefers the freedom that poetry provides.

Finally, we examine what O’Hara states that one can do in a poem and not painting. The first is the scope. The painter is not only limited by the size of the painting, but must make sure he has enough material to fill the painting. Hence the great line uttered by Goldberg that the painting “needed something there”, resulting in the inclusion of the sardines. Of course, the poet can use as little or as much space that is needed – even if it means spilling over into multiple poems as in the orange example cited. This brings us to the next difference, that poems can be anthologized. While the painting must stand on its own in the gallery, the poem can be published in a book (such as O’Hara’s “Lunch Poems”) and deliver some of its message in totality of the work beyond the poem itself. A final thing that a poem can do, as opposed to a painting, is that it can describe the nature of how it was created. This is reminiscent of Stein’s efforts to detail the challenge of the poet coming up with the right words, or Williams’ “Portrait of a Lady” detailing this struggle or creating. In O’Hara’s poem, he states “The painting is going on, and I go, and the days go by.” He is detailing the creation of the painting using the New York School I-did-this-I-did-that methodology. But notice that the poem we are reading is also being created by these same lines! None of this process can be captured in the medium of the painting. In this way, poetry is ultimately different than painting by capturing much more than what is visible on the “Sardines” canvas.

In summary, although O’Hara notes some of the reasons that being a painter would be easier than being a poet, it seems clear that he much prefers being a poet. In fact, this poem itself could not exist without the inherent advantages provides by the possibilities of poetry.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

How I Lost 20 Pounds


In June 2015, I was freed up from some major obligations and had an opportunity to pursue a number of goals that I had been putting off for a while. One of these was to drop my weight from 165 to 145. This article looks back and summarizes this process.

Why Did I Want To Lose Weight?

Some people have asked why I wanted to lose so much weight when I was "thin" to begin with. At 165 pounds, I was at the top of my recommended BMI range. So I was actually borderline from being "overweight". I had also been gaining about a pound a year over the past 10 years, so things were going in the wrong direction. In addition, I found that working out was not rewarding for me, as any results were buried under a thin layer of flab. Finally, I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.

How Did I Lose the Weight?

Phase I - 165 to 155

Losing the first 10 pounds was actually the easier part. I was able to do this in about 6 weeks during June and early July. Here are the principles and strategies that I used at this stage:

  • Diet vs. Exercise - I knew that for me, controlling my diet was going to be much more effective than exercise. I personally find it much easier to stop stuffing my mouth with food than to exercise. The fact that I need to run for 20 minutes to work off a single donut makes it an easy decision for me to just not eat the donut in the first place. So I decided to focus exclusively on the eating side of the equation
  • Smaller Bites - This is the lynchpin of the strategy. Studies have shown that taking smaller bites can make you feel full with less consumption. I took this very seriously, and started to take almost micro bites. I would make a 300 calorie cheeseburger into an entire meal by taking 50 bites. I would cut a small piece of steak into 40 pieces. And so on.
  • Half Portions - This went along with the small bites. When placing a portion on my plate, I would simply imagine the portion that I would have taken before, and take exactly half of that. For example, instead of 2 slices of pizza, I would have one (but it would be the same number of bites, or more, than I was taking before). Did I skip going to the Asian buffet restaurant? Nope, I simply took 1.5 plates of food instead of 3.
  • No caloried drinks - I gave up alcohol and any other drinks with calories. Only drank diet soda or water.
  • Planning - Did I ever get hungry eating half of what I ate before? Honestly, no. I would always plan what my next meal was going to be, so I did not break down and resort to snacks. Since I knew what time my next food was coming, I simply did not consider snacking or eating before then. If I felt hungry at 4:00, and dinner was at 6:00, I would just tell myself to work 2 more hours and then I could eat.
  • Foods - Did I replace my diet with all vegetables and granola? Absolutely not. I ate the same things as before, just half as much of it.

Phase II - 155 to 145

Losing the second 10 pounds was harder than the first, and took about 3 months from July to October. Here are the principles and strategies that I used at this stage:

  • Technology - I began using a mobile app called LoseIt! You tell it your target weight and enter all the food you eat. It gives you a calorie limit for the day and tracks that you are staying below the limit. This was helpful because it turned my diet into a habit that I could maintain over time. I was actually able to eat much more than I was during Phase I, yet know that I would still continue to lose weight (though not as quickly). The app also held me accountable by sharing my results with friends. And it lets you eat more whenever you exercise - bonus!
  • Fundamental Rule - My fundamental rule of weight loss is the following: Imagine how a person at your target weight would eat, and start eating like that person. I was at 155 pounds and wanted to get to 145. Starving myself would only be a short-term solution. What I needed was to eat like a 145 pound person would eat. And the app helped me do that.
  • Avoid Extinction Bursts - There were some periods where I was doing everything right and not losing weight for several days or weeks. The temptation was to have an extinction burst and give up. Understanding the psychology of this allowed me to persevere and stick to the plan until the weight started coming off again.
  • Learn Your Pitfall Foods - I discovered in this phase that there were certain foods I liked that were just very high-calorie. To name a few - spaghetti, rice, and mozzarella cheese. I just need to be aware that when eating these, I need to take really small portions (or just skip them). For example, I found that for the calories in 1 cup of rice, I could eat 7 cups of broccoli. So I would grab lots of broccoli and just a little bit of rice.

That's all I did! I honestly feel that most people can do this using the strategies that I outlined above. If you have other ideas that you think might work for you, let me know and I can give you my opinion about it based on the experiences I had.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

A Close Reading of William Carlos Williams' “Young Woman at a Window”

A close reading of “Young Woman at a Window” by William Carlos Williams reveals that it demonstrates many of the imagist elements that we have learned about in the class, Modern & Contemporary American Poetry. This essay will examine the differences between Version 1 and Version 2 of the poem, and determine which seems to be more effectively aligned with Imagism.

First, we will give a brief summary of the poem and what it is about. Next, we will analyze three key differences between Version 1 and Version 2 and explain in each case how that does or does not go along with the principles of the Imagist manifesto. Finally, we will conclude which poem is more closely aligned with Imagism.

At the basic level, this poem is about a woman sitting with a young child. We are watching her, possibly riding in a train in Version 2 (since the child’s nose is “pressed to the glass”). We don’t know what the woman is sad about. At a higher level, this poem may be a metaphor for one generation’s suffering to make sure they have provided adequately for the next.

Looking at the differences between Version 1 and Version 2, we begin with the first line. In Version 1, it says “she sits *there* with tears on her cheek”, while in Version 2 it simply says “she sits with tears on her cheek”. Version 2 is more Imagist in this case. The Imagist manifesto states that we should not deal in vague generalities. The word “there” does not add anything to the precise description of the scene. It is an empty word that is about the place where the woman is sitting. By removing this word in Version 2, Williams adds to the Imagism of that line.

The next difference we examine is the most critical. In Version 1, it says “this little child who robs her knows nothing of his theft”, while in Version 2 it simply says “the child in her lap”. Version 2 again is more Imagist. The Imagist manifesto states that we should use precise visual images. Here “child in her lap” is far more precise than “child who robs her knows nothing of his theft”. All of that extra information certainly adds to the narrative, but is not about the image itself. Version 2 is also more condensed, which we know is another important tenet of Williams’ Imagism. This change is so important because in Version 2 the poem is much more open and the reader needs to do the hard work to interpret the image. Version 1 provides too much information about the background story, which is not related to describing the image itself.

The final difference to examine is at the end of the poem. In Version 1, it says “but rubs his nose”, while in Version 2 it says “his nose pressed to the glass”. Again, Version 2 adheres more closely to the Imagist manifesto. Imagism should be hard and clear, and never blurred nor indefinite. The child rubbing his nose is not nearly as precise an image as pressing his nose to the glass. It is also clearer as to the motivation of the child. There are many reasons a child may rub his nose – he may have an itch, he may be tired, he may have to sneeze – but when he is pressing his nose to the glass, we know it is because he wants to see what is out there. This represents that he is striving for something, possibly something that his mother lamentably knows that she will not be able to provide.

All of the changes we examined here imply that Williams wrote Version 2 after Version 1, and that Version 2 fits more closely in the Imagist model. We know that some of his poems started out as full stories that he ultimately condensed down to one or two lines. Here, we have the opportunity to witness a piece of that process taking place. By examining how other poets improve their work to fit in with their goals, this can also help us as poets to improve our ability to implement a similar process of improvement to our own work.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Selling on ebay

I have an interesting longview on ebay since I am one of the few people who has been using it with a single account almost since the day it debuted. Yes, I joined ebay almost 16 years ago on January 3, 1999. I have 347 ebay transactions on my account (and that is not counting my second account that I use occasionally).

I recently sold two items on ebay - a Halloween costume and a pair of pants. They were in excellent condition, and desirable items, so I managed to sell them quickly and got about $30 for each of them. On the other hand, I have a third item - a new logo polo shirt - that I've been trying to sell for over a month with no luck.

Here are my latest thoughts on ebay based on these recent transactions:

  • I was rather shocked to see that the fees are up to 10% on each item. I seem to recall the fees bacxk in the day being 3% to 5%. They have made it easier to list items by eliminating most of the listing fees. So this takes some of the up-front cost and risk away from the seller. But if your item sells, then you pay more on the back end. This is a small business choice by ebay, to make it easier to sell.
  • It is also easier to mail things than it used to be. They finally figured it out so I can click a button and it allows me to pay the postage online and print a mailing label. No more writing up hand labels and going to the post office. Yay.
  • There are so many items on ebay from China. You can't sell anything anymore that is a commodity; for example, a phone charger or thumb drive. But if you have something rare, or of tangible value, you can still get a better price for it on ebay than at a flea market. I think this is a huge problem for ebay. When you go to look for an item, you get 500 listings from China for cheap trash that doesn't work.
  • It is still a pain in the butt to list an item on ebay. Even with my experience, and automated photo uploads, I assume 15 minutes minimum to properly list a single item. After adding in 15 minutes to ship the item, it's really not worth it to use ebay to sell anything worth less than about $30. Unless you have a particular sentimental reason that you want the item to go to a "good home".
  • I've had several bad experiences selling things for other people on ebay, but I've done it as a favor to people who want to tap into my experience. These are the typical problems:
    • The person does not understand why it takes 30 minutes to list the item and deal with the other transaction issues. Plus they don't give me all of the information I need so it takes even longer for me to get the details that I need from them.
    • The person thinks the item is worth far more than someone will pay for it. I swear my Dad had me list a bar on ebay that his friend claimed to have bought from Frank Sinatra. He wanted someone to pay some crazy amount for it, and they had to come pick it up! He'd be lucky to unload something like this on Craigsllist for 10% of what he was asking.
    • Of course my perfect feedback score is also at risk if anything goes wrong with the transaction.