Recently in Self-Portraits Category

A few week agos, Jana took this quiz designed to gauge your world view and posted her results on her blog. A few days later her husband John took the same quiz and posted his results, and not so long ago Wayne followed the links in my webroll to one of those places and took the quiz himself, though he didn't post his results on either his first or second blog. Instead, he read me his results over the phone, and told me to take the quiz. So I did. Turns out I'm a Cultural Creative, and

Cultural Creatives are probably the newest group to enter this realm. You are a modern thinker who tends to shy away from organized religion but still feels as if there is something greater than ourselves. You are very spiritual, even if you are not religious. Life has a meaning outside of the rational.

I didn't just score highest in the Cultural Creative category; I scored perfectly in it. I don't particularly know what the term means or how long it's been around, but I guess I really truly am one, if I buy into it 100%. I'm rather glad that "new ager" is not a category; I appreciate quite a few new age ideas, but there's so much annoying posture that goes along with being new age. As for the other terms, many of them don't mean to me what they seem to mean to the creator of this quiz, so I'm not sure how revealing the results are. To me, a Romanticist is someone who studies early 19th century British poetry (not many of those around these days) and a Modernist is what I almost became, someone who specializes in British and American lit written between the two world wars, and a postmodernist is a silly person who writes badly whose work you have to read in graduate school. At least I'm absolutely NOT a fundamentalist (which I would have predicted but am glad to have confirmed nonetheless). Anyway, here are my results:

Cultural Creative 100%

Idealist 94%

Postmodernist 69%

Existentialist 63%

Materialist 38%

Romanticist 38%

Modernist 19%

Fundamentalist 0%

If you take the quiz yourself, let me know how you score.

Self-Portrait as Modest Desires

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When I was finishing up my first master's degree, I saw a career counselor who told me I should figure out what I would want if I could have any kind of life at all. My desires were modest: I wanted to live alone in a pleasant house with lots of windows. I wanted to spend most of my day writing, alone. In the evening I wanted to get together with friends and eat pasta out of big pretty bowls, and then I wanted to go home alone. I didn't care whether or not I was rich or famous; I just wanted to be comfortable. I also wanted all of this to take place in Italy. And wouldn't you know I got it all, six years later, except that as far as the place goes, all the universe got right was the first letter: it happened in Iowa, not Italy.

What if I had wanted something grander, more elaborate? Why didn't I want something grander, more elaborate? One reason is, I think, that I was tired. Life had been pretty stressful up to that point and I wanted some peace. I wanted less to be expected of me.

At this point I'd like to want more. I want more to be expected of me and I expect more of me and I expect more of the universe. What, after all, am I allowed to want? That has been part of my thinking all along: If you have this, you can't want that. If you are a Mormon you can't want a life full of drugs and orgies. If you have even a certain level of enlightenment you can't want the ease of living a stupid, unenlightened life. Furthermore, if you want certain things, then you can't really want other things. If you want to eat whatever you want whenever you want no matter how many calories it has or what it does to your liver or your pancreas or whatever, then you can't really want to be thin and healthy. If you want to smoke then you can't really want to breathe well. If you want to be nasty to your neighbors then you can't really want to be enlightened. If you want to be a writer then you can't really want to be not a writer. If you don't really feel like writing then you must not really want to be a writer.

Some of those probably hold true and some probably don't. I want to want everything I can possibly want. I want to want so many things that I get at least some of them, even if they are contradictory.

Self-Portrait as Recluse


A piece salvaged from old files, this was written in August 2001, when I first moved back to Arizona.

"People look better back-lit," my photographer friend told me. It's also true of mountains. This evening I rode my bike down to the Gila River a mile north of town, which involved passing the old sewer pond and the new wastewater treatment facility, both of which smelled especially bad, perhaps because it has been so long since it rained. The clouds were orange for a long time and then they were gray. The mountains had contours for a long time and then they were just a stark, dark outline before a diminishing brightness. I had never noticed before how the Pinalenos and the Santa Teresas look like a felled dinosaur, the head pointing southeast and the massive tail jutting northwest.

These two ranges, connected by a long, low ridge, look like they could be one mountain range, but they're geologically different, I'm told. The Pinalenos, which are taller and thicker and longer, have nothing in them worth mining. The Santa Teresas contain gold, silver, copper, etc, and if anyone wanted those minerals badly enough, they could get them out.

I haven't done anything exciting in the past eight years except: get a PhD, fall in love and get my heart broken, write a book. Each of these activities has hampered the rest of my life in certain ways. Getting a PhD involved being in graduate school in the Midwest for eight years. I hated many things about being in a PhD program, course work being at the top of the list, poverty running a close second. Once I finished course work and could just sit at home and read the books I needed to read for teaching or for research, graduate school became a lot less vile. I had lots of time but not a lot of money. I started to knit and quilt again. I took up yoga. I began to garden. All of that was enjoyable but it doesn't exactly rank high on anyone's list of huge thrills.

Self-Portrait Series

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I love self-portraits, partly because in grad school I read this fabulous essay by Philippe Lejeune called "Looking at a Self-Portrait." Lejeune is a literary critic whose primary interest is autobiography, verbal and visual. He asks, "What is it that makes a self-portrait recognizable as such? What special interest can their be in looking at a self-portrait?"

Of course there is nothing in a painting that marks it as a self-portrait for anyone who does not know what the painter looks like, hence the existence of titles like Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, by Parmigianino (which John Ashbery borrowed for the title of one of his books). Painting, Lejeune points out, has no obvious first person, whereas "For the first person, writing is invincible."

Not long after reading that I started writing self-portraits: "Self-Portrait as Hungry Nude." "Self-Portrait as Burnt Offering." "Self-Portrait as Someone Who Looks Exactly Like Me."


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