Burn the House Down

davidsedarisOn Wednesday, I ushered for a talk given by David Sedaris (author of Naked, Me Talk Pretty One Day, and most recently When You are Engulfed in Flames) in which he detailed his hilarious personal experiences, primarily in France and Australia. Unfortunately I missed quite a bit of the show because it was a full house (the ushers were dismissed later than usual and my friend and I had to leave the show early in order to get a good spot in line for the book signing afterwards). However, Sedaris was outrageously funny yet also insightful during the part of the talk that I was able to see.

A memorable moment for me was when Sedaris talked about stove tops as a metaphor for life. He recalled a conversation with a friend in which the friend tells him that each person has four burners on their stove top: Family, Friends, Work, and Health. In order to be successful, a person will usually have to turn off one burner. The really successful turn off two. For Sedaris, those two burners were Health and Family. 

Since that night, I have been thinking a lot about my stove burners. What will I have to give up in order to achieve my goals? Although I continue to hope, I don’t really believe in having it all. There are too many examples to the contrary. So I guess the question becomes an impossible one: “What can I learn to live without?” Maybe the smartest people are the ones who answer, “Success,” but I don’t know many people who would actually go through with cutting that ambition out of their lives. I know that I tend to ignore Health until I get sick. Friends and Family also flicker occasionally when life gets too hectic. I worry that one day I’ll turn around and realise that I have nothing but Work to keep me warm at night.

The best humor tells us something true about ourselves. Even through the laughter, we learn to ask questions previously unthought of and start to think about our lives in more meaningful ways.


 Which stove burner have you neglected lately?


Confessions of a Theatre Usher

Before the Grammar Nazis come after me, I’d like to absolve myself by saying that I like to spell certain words the British way – i.e. theatre, realise, grey, etc. – It’s my thing, deal with it.

Also, I’d like to draw your attention to my new banner :] (I love MS paint!), which I am quite proud of since I usually get someone to do this type of thing for me. See if you can recognize any of the pictures! Finally, given the frequency that I hope to be attending performances/lectures/readings this year, I’ve added a new category “Stage Spy” for my reviews/thoughts on the events that I go to so be sure to check it out sometime if you want to see what’s new on the LA cultural/literary/intellectual scene.


Royce HallToday I ushered for UCLA Live for the first time and it was definitely a great start for the season. I love wearing nice high heels and looking “like a lawyer” (although I will have to wait till next time to get my bow tie). I always find it so much fun to dress up and look formal/professional; it makes me feel all grown-up and smart (I silently grieve the extension of the Casual Friday to all five weekdays on the West Coast).

Anyways, one interesting observation I made through the course of today was how people’s manners seem to change based on who they’re dealing with.

Earlier in the day I did some tabling/flyering for Aleph (the UCLA Undergraduate Research Journal for the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences – GET PUBLISHED! *not so subtle plug*); passing out flyers, by the way, is probably one of the top five most depressing campus activities to engage in. I’d stand by a walkway, looking as friendly and harmless as possible, and yet people would see the flyers in my hands and veer off their original course (i.e. go to the other side of the street) just to avoid talking to me. As you extend your flyer out, most people will just shake their heads and walk on, but I’ve found that people wearing sunglasses are the worst. They hide behind their stunna shades, feeling empowered, fabulous, and anonymous enough to breeze past people like they don’t exist.

Maybe I just got rejected too many times in a one-hour flyering shift, but when I ushered tonight I was struck by how polite the patrons were. Almost every person who walked through the “center left” doors said “Thank you” when I handed them a program and several smiled or asked how I was. Yes, these are basic pleasantries and perhaps the theatre-going crowd is simply better behaved than the typical college student rushing to class, but the stark contrast just seemed so strange to me.

I realise that etiquette is often seen as an artifice, especially in modern times, but I still believe that it serves an important purpose in social interactions. I never understood how people could be so rude to one another (i.e. cutting in line, swearing, road rage), even if they found the other person to be an inconvenience. Shouldn’t a person with true manners treat everyone equally with the respect that they deserve? Or does etiquette inherently contain different rules for different “classes” of people? More importantly, do manners and etiquette even matter in this modern society of Casual Monday-thru-Friday’s, a tell-all tabloid world that blurs (or eliminates) the line between our private and public selves?

Ok, end of long tangent! I’m actually blogging to gloat about the highlight of my week: ushering for meeting John Updike!

John UpdikeI, Sophia Literaria, was in the same room with a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner (I’m actually pretty sure this is the first time this has happened… unless I unknowingly met one during the LA Festival of Books last year).

Sadly, I must confess that I haven’t read any of his novels (although after his talk, I’ve placed The Witches of Eastwick on my list of Books To Read). I know Updike mainly from his vast body of work in The New Yorker, but even without reading his longer pieces of writing, I found myself fascinated by his take on the creative process and the influences of age on his literary perspective. Plus, he was very funny/witty/(dare I say cute?) in that wonderful eccentric grandfather sort of way that always delights me.

I think the thing that struck me the most during the talk was Updike’s rule of publishing a book a year. Updike is an extremely productive writer, who comes out with short stories, reviews, poetry, and novels at an almost insane pace, especially given the length of his career. His body of work is seriously large enough to fill its own bookshelf. Yet I can’t help but wonder if this pace compromises the quality of his writing, if he could be even greater if he had the patience and tranquility to stick to one idea at a time. Updike spoke of great admiration for writers like Saul Bellow who don’t mind “not seeing his name in print” for long periods of time. I almost sense an insecurity in Updike’s admission that he feels antsy when he doesn’t see his work in the public eye for a while.

The Widows of EastwickAnd yet this is not a complete reading of Updike’s motivations for his frenetic pace. I think Updike takes his position as a prominent literary figure seriously and pushes to remain in the public eye in part because he wants to affect change and influence opinion in a world that is increasingly dismissive of writers and literature as a whole. As Updike pointed out, the position of the writer in society has greatly diminished since the times of the Great Depression onward. I feel like most people these days see fiction the same way they see the movies – as a simple form of entertainment. We don’t see our poet laureates as “prophets” or “oracles of truth” anymore. We dismiss the greatest authors of the Western canon as inferior to Rowling and Meyer simply because they are “hard to read”. We dive into racy plotlines instead of immersing ourselves in language that is beautifully wrought; because we’ve abandoned good writing for quick summer reads and trashy paperbacks, good writing has abandoned us.

However, old-fashioned writers like Updike, who still writes the first drafts to his novels by hand, continue to bravely cling to the idea that maybe they can still make a ripple in the social consciousness, despite Harry Potter, fanfiction, and blogs (*pleads guilty*).

A Brief Break in the Storm

Wow. I did not expect Junior year to be this hectic. Especially in the first half of this quarter. Unfortunately, my expectations have been direly compromised. In the span of the last 23 days (in which I have sadly not had the time to post), I’ve written 2 English papers, taken 1 Philosophy midterm, done about 80 pages of GRE work, completed 386 Logic2k problems, and read (or am in the process of reading) 11 works of literature. Seeing as this is only Week Four, I’m probably not crazy in thinking that it can only get worse. 😦


No, I do not supply this laundry list to brag. I, Sophia Literaria, am overworked, sleep-deprived, and seriously contemplating whether I really want to be this tired for the rest of my life (Oh, academia! Why must you make me feel so wretched and pathetic?). Nevertheless, I apologize for not posting lately… I’m just a little tired…

So, in order to cheer myself up on this wonderful post-midterm Friday, I’ve decided to compile a happy list of pick-me-ups that keep me going through a long day.

1. POWER NAPS – I am not a healthy girl. I sleep around 3 to 4 AM regularly, and my tired mind seems to think it’s hit the jackpot whenever I get in bed before 2. I’ve resorted to using three alarms to get my silly self to class in the morning and lately I’ve taken to napping in the library (Actually, I’ve noticed about half of the people at the library seem to be sleeping). On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I have a 2-3 hour gap between classes in which I like to find a comfy chair in Powell and power nap. Its a double-plus-good gold star day if I find an entire unoccupied couch. Naps are beautiful. Everyone should take naps. 

2. Buying new/rare/pretty books (among other guilty pleasures) – I try not to be materialistic, but sometimes spending money really makes a person feel better. Whether its new clothes or lip gloss or nicely bound novels (all three of which seem to be a part of my stress-coping mechanism), I am a firm believer that purchasing material goods is a perfectly good form of therapy. Just this week, I bought myself a copy of selected poetry by T.S. Eliot and I keep a secret stash of unworn clothes in the closet for an especially rainy day. Sometimes I think it makes life easer to place a portion of your happiness on concrete objects; it makes for such an easier quick fix.

3. My current television obsession Pushing Daisies – Perhaps I should dedicate an entire post to this show someday, but for now, I shall simply summarize what I love about this show. It is CUTE. Sappy even. Quirky and strange. And in my opinion, one of the most original and fresh shows on television at the moment. I love the outrageous murder mysteries and how hilariously clean the show is and the awesome funny ways that all the characters’ names seem to reflect who they are.

4. The new and very much improved season 5 of Grey’s Anatomy – I like to think of Grey’s Anatomy as a televised allegory for my life – so I was pretty disappointed at the ungloriousness of Season Four (save for the finale). But I really think the show is rediscovering its sense of humor this season and the season so far has been absolutely fantastic (“We’d be happier people if only we loved lotion!” – Ah yes, I wish I loved “lotion” more too…).

5. Fun and happy reading assignments – I’ve developed a preference for comedy lately and it’s always so much more fun when English reading is absurd and hilarious. I owe much to Anthony Trollope and George Bernard Shaw for getting me through the past few weeks. (On a side note: the word “guttersnipe” really tickles me to pieces.)

6. Making colorful notes/cards/study materials – Perhaps this is just a girly thing, but I really like COLORS. I carry six different highlighter colors with me (although I scorn the yellow one) and probably own more than 10 shades of post-it notes/tabs/index cards. My logic binder is currently covered in multi-colored flashcards titled “Inference Rules”, “Derivation Strategies”, and “Enabled Theorems” in red, purple, and blue. The inside of my closet door has my quarterly goals written out in colored markers and accompanied by strange doodles. I like to decorate. Maybe I just can’t stand blank spaces (definitely won’t find a Minimalist enthusiast in me), but filling in the emptiness never fails to cheer me up a little.

7. Good skipping music – I just think its a super way to start off the day walking to class to a favorite song. Current recommendations:

    • Chairlift – “Bruises”
    • Christina Aguilera – “Love Will Find a Way”
    • Counting Crows – “Einstein on the Beach (For an Eggman)”
    • Foy Vance – “Homebird”
    • Guster – “Center of Attention”
    • Hairspray – “Without Love”
    • Kate Voegele – “It’s Only Life”
    • Leigh Nash – “Ocean Size Love”
    • Moonbabies – “War on Sound”
    • Nena – “99 Red Balloons”
    • Robert Randolph & the Family Band – “Ain’t Nothing Wrong with That”
    • Sara Bareilles – “Bottle It Up”
    • Snow Patrol – “You’re All I Have”
    • 林俊杰 – “豆浆油条”

    8. Strange but loveable BEST FRIENDS – Sometimes I think I don’t show enough appreciation of my bestest friend, but hopefully she knows it anyways. We’ve been late-night homework buddies since we first learned to pull all-nighters (darn those AP classes) and whether it’s griping over some assignment or randomly discussing nice names for our future children, it’s nice having a kindred spirit to talk to late at night (and be sleep-deprived with).

    Also, here’s a brief list of things for me to look forward to the rest of this quarter!

    1. Two-year Anniversary con el novio
    2. Lang Lang concert avec ma meilleure amie (& company)
    3. Daylight Savings!!! (More sleep! Woot!)
    4. Ushering for a John Updike reading
    5. Ushering for a performance of Robert Lepage’s “The Blue Dragon”
    6. Ushering for a concert featuring the Guarneri String Quartet & Johannes String Quartet
    7. Going home for Thanksgiving (Mmm.. Chinese food.)
    8. Winter break trip to China

    So cheer up, Sophia. Life isn’t so bad after all.

    Besides, I suppose it’s always daunting looking at all the great things that still need to be accomplished. I came across this quote in Pygmalion today and it seems most appropriate advice for me to start taking:

    “It is these little things that matter, Pickering. Take care of the pence and the pounds will take care of themselves is as true of personal habits as of money.” -Higgins