Friday, May 16, 2008

The Wonderful World of Music

I could not bear to recap the final three. I have the results show TIVO-d and I plan to recap that. But, not tonight. I mean, can you bear it? Watching these two in the finals is going to be physically painful.

Here's something:

I found the Empire Records soundtrack under a CPU here in our office. The movie, "Empire Records" was based on that old standard plot: Let's put on a show to save the community center! Only in this case the community center was a record store. The reason the movie was iconic was because of the soundtrack which featured such early 90s bands as Toad the Wet Sprocket and The Gin Blossoms. I quite liked the soundtrack -- played it all the time the summer after grad school.

So, on this CD is Edwyn Collins' old song "A Girl Like You." Hearing it, I remembered that when the song was being played on the radio there was a lyric that I could never understand. Now that I have the internet, I decided to look it up. Here's what the lyrics site told me. Note the bolded lines:

I`ve never known a girl like you before
I`ll just like any song from days of you
He coming knocking out there on my door
Well I`ve never met a girl like you before

(Okay, so, the lyric is "days of yore" and that was beyond this interpreter. Furthermore, applying some common sense to line three we would probably come up with "Here you come knocking on my door," but basically that is the first section of the song. On we go.)

Give me just a taste so I want more
Now my hands are bleeding and my knees are raw
`Cause now you got me crawling, crawling on the floor
I`ve never known a girl like you before


Wave me a college
The devil in me
I hoped you got `em talking
At a fare aclee
Hope that I`m talking at a gare aclee
No time talking `bout the way I feel

Fare aclee? Gare aclee? Hey, wave me a college, would you? I heard "at a fare aclee" as "metaphorically" and "at a gare aclee" as "allegorically" but THAT IS JUST ME.

And I`ve never known a girl like you before
Never, never, never, never
Never known a girl like you before

And I've never known a word like "aclee" before.

This old time changed so much
Don`t see where I belong
Too many poor singers
Not enough put their thumbs and now

This was the line I was looking for: sounds like "Too many PUDDASS singers. Not enough PUDDASS songs." I never would have thought it was "not enough put their thumbs." And I still don't.

You`ve come along
Yes, you`ve come along
And I never met a girl like you before
It`s alright.

Here's a link to the real lyrics, if you care. Apparently it's "protest singers" and "protest songs."

Saturday, April 12, 2008

How Terrible

I just remembered that I used to know a boy in high school who peeled his hands. He was a tall, thick, quiet boy with straight hair like a wet cap. He peeled the skin off his hands to the point that he sat in class with a bloody kleenex wrapped around parts of his hands at all times. Or maybe he had some kind of hand peeling disease that made his hands peel without his intervention. The point is that I sat next to this boy with the bloody rag in his hands and made absolutely no sort of contact ever. His behavior was categorized by me as aberrant and I ignored it. And him.

I don't remember his name, but I'm not surprised about that. It does surprise me that I felt no kind of comradeship with this boy, in fact I had a habit of tearing up my cuticles, at stressful times to the point that my best friend throughout high school and college would sometimes be moved to say, "Look, your fingers are like little Christmas trees!" This is the best friend, best friend for ten years, who revealed in her 2004 memoir that our friendship was based on my being mean and her being self-abusive. Or did she say that she stayed friends with me because if I, vicious troll that I was, could be nice to her, then she must be "cool." I can't remember which explanation she settled on, after offering both, I must admit I read those bits quickly.

Friday, April 11, 2008

There Will Be Wide Expanses of Nothing

We watched this movie on Eleanor's birthday. She selected it. In the afternoon, she called me on my mobile and said, "Can you make this happen? It's all I really want, just 'There Will Be Blood,' okay?" And I said, "Well, there will also be cake," because I wanted to assure her that we would truly be celebrating, not just the usual chinese food and art films. And she said, "Okay, I will be there after 7:30." At 7:00 I called home and said to Dan, "Oh, Dan, please go and trade in whatever girl movie I had on the cabinet for 'There Will Be Blood' because it's Eleanor's special birthday wish." And then he said, "Okay." And then I said, "Can you please also wrap the present that's sitting in the front room?" And he said, "Will there be anything else?" Or something else to show mild loving exasperation with all these tasks, and I said something like "Thank you so much for helping me," because I was really grateful, feeling sort of tired and rushed, and he warmly told me that I was welcome.

If you felt like maybe fast-forwarding through the last paragraph, to get to the pay-off, and you kind of let your eyes wander down the screen to find the point of it all, and then coming to the end of the paragraph you felt like I just nattered on about things that were possibly poignant to me but hardly poignant to anyone else, then you get a small sense of why we watched "There Will Be Blood" on 1.5 speed. You can still hear the talking, okay? It's just that on the long shots where someone is trudging across the badlands, he trudges a little faster. On the endless lingering shots when someone is peering into the distance, or the fire, or the dirt, having complex masculine emotions down deep inside, he peers a little quicker.

Is that a crime?

Well, what if I told you I was making it easy for you in paragraph one? For example, I told you how I was feeling twice, when I could have just described the motion of my eyebrows and expected you to intuit it. I also did not include the 30 minutes I spent listening to my four-year-old daughter's wandering narrative based on the pictures in Peter Rabbit. A time I spent silently listening. I didn't include the time it took to drive home, during which I was almost motionless, staring straight ahead, and the kids were listening to Geggy Tah.

After five minutes, we said, "Maybe this is a movie for men?"

After thirty minutes, we said, "It ain't no 'Boogie Nights'!"

After an hour, we went to 1.5 speed.

We went back to the regular speed for the "I ABANDONED MY CHILD. I ABANDONED MY BOY." part and it was totally not worth it.

In the end, we were unmoved. To be fair, the movie suffered in comparison to the brilliant, amazing, wrenching, hilarious, explosive "No Country for Old Men." Let's face it: Coen > Tarrantino. But Anderson 2008 < Anderson 1998.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Drama at the Disco

Well, not the disco. But "Walgreen's" is neither alliterative nor sexy. Also, Walgreen's is not actually relevant. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I had errands to run today, and I ran them with vigor. By the end of the day though, my vigor was fading. One of my errands was to pick up some prints which I had ordered at Walgreen's online photo ordering joint this morning. I pulled into the drug store parking lot, left the kids in the van with the relative, and sauntered into the store. I noticed that Walgreen's had upgraded its photo center. I was mildly pleased, as anyone would be, when something gets upgraded that you neither cared passionately about nor felt dissatisfied with before the upgrade occurred.

It was, like, a counter, with like a guy behind it, and bins of photos and stuff.

Me: I'm here to pick up some photos for Lydia.
Guy: Linda?
Me (irritated): LI-DEE-YUH.
Guy (rooting around in the standard sized envelopes): Nothing here for you.
Me: Well, there were a couple of 8x10s. It would be in a larger envelope.
Guy: (rooting around in the larger bin): Nope. Nothing here for Lydia.
Me: Okay, I ordered them online.
Guy: Ohhh, you ordered them ON-LINE. Well, that all goes through Kodak. And they have to send them to us, and then we--
Me (interrupting rudely): Yeah, the web site said they would be done half an hour ago and I got an email saying they were ready. So.
Guy: Well, are you sure this is the right store? Because there's another store on--
Me (interrupting rudely, with gritted teeth, sarcastically raised eyebrows, and disingenuously widened eyes): Yes, I know. I ordered them sent to Walgreen's on 810 21st Street. I've ordered prints here many times. I'm sure about the address. Thanks.
Guy: But are you sure you're at Walgreen's?

And at this point Guy points to his bright blue vest and there on the lapel is the logo: Rite Aid. At first I thought, "Rite Aid ate Eckerd last month. Have they now burped, swivelled, and eaten Walgreen's???" And then I remembered pulling into the parking lot of... Rite Aid. With my van, and me driving it. The next realization I had was that I was a giant ass.

Guy was a cool-looking gay dude and up until now this had been kind of annoying me because I was in full mommy mode and he was coyly denying me my pictures. At this point, though, I was glad. Because Guy and I had a good laugh over it. But seriously, I am now in negative karma in a bad bad way. On the day before Easter, I practically assaulted a photo counter employee and then haughtily revealed that I had no idea WHERE I WAS.

The Easter Bunny is going to bring me a fried goat turd.

UPDATE: When I was looking for an image to illustrate this point, I google-image-searched "wallgreen's" and obviously I spelled it wrong. And result #11 was a picture of Joshilyn and Stephen Colbert. Investigating further, I find that she also spelled WALGREEN'S with two l's in her astute observation about where you can buy underpants. So, we both assed our spelling of Walgreen's, but she's the one that got to meet Colbert. IS THIS THE BEGINNING OF MY KARMA SMACKDOWN!?

Yes, Google, I did mean Walgreen's.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Across the Universe: Movie Review

If you like the Beatles, you will like this movie. If you aren't a fan, there is absolutely no point in watching it. There are no interesting characters, and there is no plot. There are, however, really interesting covers of Beatles songs. So, that is attractive.

It's like "The Science of Sleep" but with really no characters and more music. It's like "Moulin Rouge" but with no very great acting. There are thirty Beatles songs in it. People sing a lot. The same people sing song after song. But he's not Jake Gyllenhaal, and she's not Chloe Sevigny.

Some of it was amazing -- puppets, masks, special effects, beautiful. Some of it was very very clever -- "I Want You" and "Happiness is a Warm Gun" in particular. Some of it was, okay, schlocky: "Dear Prudence" and "All You Need Is Love." Okay, listen, I told you no one is going to win a reward for writing this or acting in it. However, it is very engaging. And I do love the Beatles. If you look at it as a very very long music video with regrettable interludes of talking and historically romantic layers, your expectations will be correct.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Introspection on Spine and Death

I have this herniated disk in my spine. I've had it for a long time, and at times it's better and at times worse. There's no way to make it go away, outside of surgery which presents its own set of problems. So here I am. I take Motrin when I remember, and Vicodin when it gets obnoxious, and I march onward. There are millions and millions of people who have way worse physical problems than I do.

Insignificance notwithstanding, occasionally I get feeling a little desperate about it. I have two small children and I would like to be able to bound around and frisk effortlessly like some sort of lovely gazelle, instead of creaking around at times with all the elegance and vivacity of a pile of firewood.

I am, I must tell you, a person who feels omnipotent. I was raised by people who told me I could do anything I wanted, not in a sparkly dreamy-eyed way, but in a factual, casual way. Like, of course. So having something physically wrong with me which prevents me from doing things like running is very irksome. Because it's incontrovertible. Karate is not something that I chose to abandon. That choice was not mine. Sometimes I have felt like life sort of stretches out with limited choices from this point, and I have to keep dragging on through it with this or that painkiller.

I don't think about it a lot, but when I do think about it, it's kind of depressing.

Which is why I was surprised the other night when a new thought presented itself. I was having my usual glancing and wincing relationship with this issue while I was getting dried off after a shower. I found myself thinking that I only have to put up with this irritation for a while longer, and then I will be dead, after all it is only a body, and I am only in it for a while. This thought was not distressing to me -- it was comforting, like realizing you're going to be trading in your car. I wouldn't have thought, five years ago, that I would ever approach mortality in this kind of shitty, oh-well manner. I mean I'm sure one girl's shitty-oh-well is another girl's wow-enlightened but for me, I'm a little disappointed in myself.

I'm not dead yet, after all. No need to be getting philosophical.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Academy Awards Recap: Oscars 2008: Wear Red, Even if You're Helen Mirren

BEST WAGGLY WALK: First presenter is Jennifer Garner. She’s been backstage with her therapist going over that Gary Busey molestation thing. She looks blotchy. Possibly a little bit of punitive flagellation.

FIRST LAUGH FROM JOHN STEWART: “If we see a woman or black man being president on television, that usually means that an asteroid is about to hit the earth. If a woman or black man wins the election, how will we know it’s not the future!”

Helen Mirren came to the Oscars with Phillip Seymour Hoffman?

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE: Ratatouille. AMAZING! I thought that Important Iranian Film would surely win! Well hey.

BEST MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: Amy Adams sings "Happy Working Song" from "Enchanted." I love her, love this song, love "Enchanted." Here is a creature without irony. Examine her. Turn her over and over. Diagram her strange extremities.

I got a little glimpse of Francis McDormand. She looks awesome. She’s wearing birth control glasses.

MOST MAMMARY PRESENTER: Here comes a breathless, nervous, tongue-tied Jennifer Hudson. My husband speculates that she might have five or six boobs in there, considering my original estimate a little low.

MOST WORRYING CELEBRITY: Owen Wilson sounding out words from the teleprompter and peering at us through red eyes. His nose looks like it’s just been punched. Or, he is stoned.

NO! THEY CAN’T BE STILL PIMPING THIS BEE MOVIE!: It tanked, hello! Nobody watched it! It made children scream and run in the other direction! Seinfeld as bee presents the nominees for animated short film. Awful.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: TILDA SWINTON! Wearing a torn Hefty bag! One sparkly cuff her only adornment. No makeup, tousled orange hair, looking very evil queen. This woman admitted on the red carpet that she has never even watched the Oscars on TV. Now she immediately gives her trophy to her American agent, because his buttocks look similar. Oh yes, yes, there might have been some other reason. Not the expected choice.

BEST COEN BROTHER: Joel. They won for their screenplay. It was adapted.

MOST UNFAIR CASTING: Amy Adams had to sing her “Enchanted” song on an empty stage and Kristen Chenowith got to sing “How Do You Know” with a cast of thousands and get lifted off a bridge – totally unfair! Amy Adams *IS* Giselle for heaven’s sake.

BEST ACTRESS: Marion Cotillard. She wore a mermaid dress to the Oscars, and then she accidentally won Best Actress. She gurgles Frenchly for a while and then says, “Thank you life! Thank you love! It is true there are some angels in this city!” Surprising. She like everyone in the audience thought Ellen Page was going to win.

JACK NICHOLSON: In regular glasses! He says nice things about movies and introduces another montage. I saw a movie last night called “15 Minutes.” It was pretty good. If you like DeNiro and Ed Burns, you will like it. On the other hand, there was a whole lot of stuff in the middle about some Czech girl that Dan and I felt could have been edited more sternly.

BEST DRESS OF THE EVENING: Renee Zellwegger has absolutely got the best dress of the evening. It looks completely perfect. Love the short hair too, wow, does she look great.

WORST JEWELRY: Nicole Kidman is pregnant and wearing five thousand diamonds on her neck in the shape of those icicles people hang on their gutters and forget about until April. Sorry, she looks rotten. And there’s a hairpin sticking out of her giant bun. Love Nicole Kidman, but tonight is not so good on the visuals. She’s here to give an award to an old man in a scarf. When the old man in the scarf starts talking, you know it’s okay to go get a refill on the carbonated peach wine.

MOST VILE FASHION TREND: Penelope Cruz is also wearing a sleeveless dress with dead poultry stapled to the front of it. Okay it is a trend. A trend I hate.

LATEST REASON TO SHUN SUBTITLES: All the nominated foreign language films look incredibly depressing. Even the one they excerpted as just a child dancing – you know that child is about to be eaten by a giant crow, that symbolizes the darkness within us all. Remind me to watch more American films.

SCREW YOU, ARTY LITTLE MOVIE: Speaking of joy, why does everyone want a movie song to lift my heart? I like my heart right behind my sternum, thanks. Bring on the Austrian films. Of course, the Oscar for best song goes to some uplifting heart-rearranging piece of syrup from some “little” movie, and all the Enchanted songs get stiffed. Well, I’m going to buy TWO Enchanted DVDs to make up for that ridiculous slight. The pinkfaced sap that wrote it is crying. Bah.

SECOND MAJOR LAUGH OF THE NIGHT: After the unknown, gelatinous, happy pinkfaced chap who made the movie “Once” gets up and cries and grovels and says he’s not worthy, John Stewart comes back on and says, “Wow, that guy is so arrogant.”

Cameron Diaz is next. I’m in suspense: Has she put on makeup, jewelry, or combed her hair? No. But she has dusted her collarbones with something amazing. I can’t look away.

Heath Ledger got the coveted final slot in the “He or she died” montage. Rest in peace.

A bunch of other awards. Blah blah blah.

BEST SCREENPLAY: Diablo Cody wins Best Original Screenplay for Juno. I’m sure it’s all very wonderful. At the end she attempts to hug the award girl, snubs Harrison Ford, and rushes off the stage in a way her dress (leopard print mumu with sparkles!) was not meant to accommodate.

BEST ACTOR: Daniel Day Lewis. He is a cool guy, okay? Pirate hoop earrings and ill-fitting suit notwithstanding. He looks about fourteen. And charming. Just as I am about to forgive and forget the “Last of the Mohicans” line: “STAY ALIVE! I WILL FIND YOU!” Lewis demonstrates his need to be nominated for a cockpunch by waxing ridiculously lyrical in his acceptance speech. Maybe that’s just who he is. Fine, whatever. I am more judgmental after midnight, people.

Did we ever do best supporting actor? Did I miss it? Oh, it was Javier Bardem from the Coen brothers’ movie. He talked about his haircut. Now I remember.

BEST DIRECTOR: Coens. Their third. No Country for Old Directors. Now the other Coen gets to speak but really declines. Joel gets back on the horn and tells an anecdote.

BEST PICTURE: No Country For Old Men. Well done, Coens. You rule.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Liveblogging the Oscar Preshow on E! with Ryan Seacrest

Ryan in a brown shawl collar.
Guilana in lavender with a sequined bandolier.
This picture is old:

Kimora Lee Simmons postulates that girls are having babies and eating and therefore gaining weight. Giuliana says, “I hope we see a lot of that tonight.”

Heidi Klum in bright red Galliano, made for her, which you can buy after the show. Ryan asks who she’s looking forward to seeing tonight, and she says, “No one.”

George Clooney says it’s fun this time because it’s a film they’re all really proud of. So, last time they thought it was a big turd?

Anne Hathaway in bright red with rosettes across the bodice and over the shoulder.
Patrick Dempsey’s arm candy in bright red.

Saiorse Ronan in emerald green.

Ryan Seacrest referencing Steve Carell’s wife’s tampons. Double plus ungood. Steve Carell looks irritated.

Amy Adams in dark green sweetheart sleeveless.

John Travolta’s arm candy in orange.

Miley Cyrus in bright red.

Jessica Alba is pregnant and a purple swan has died on her boobs.

Seth Rogen’s arm candy having savage tits.

Ryan Seacrest dangles Amy Adams’ mesh bag in front of his privates.

Daniel Day Lewis with hunted eyes, pirate hoop earrings, grey hair in a frazzled mom bob. His tuxedo has brown piping around the collar.

Cameron Diaz in a folded napkin and fuck-me bangs and a messy ponytail.

Jennifer Garner and Laura Linney both in sleeveless black dresses.

STOP! Gary Busey has attacked Ryan Seacrest! And then he tongued Jennifer Garner on the neck! He is accompanied by a girl in a lime green tank top. Look for it on YouTube, I’m sure it will be there. Letting Gary Busey out on live television is stoopid.

Keri Russell in a flesh-colored corset dress and great jewels.

Kristen Chenoweth in a Cameron Diaz wannabe contest and has back cleavage.

Marion Cotillard in a mermaid dress with real! scales!

Jessica Alba has beautiful hair but a pregnant woman should not be in a sleeveless dress.

Jennifer Hudson in a white empire waist drapey goddess dress with snakeskin trim. There is no doubt how many boobs she has. Two.

Tilda Swinton with bright red hair, wearing a torn Hefty bag, no jewelry, and looking like an angry young fetus.

Hillary Swank in an upsweep, black feathery dress, one strap, no those are flowers on the bodice.
Colin Farrell has been aggressively tanning.

George Clooney’s girlfriend is wearing my grandmother’s quilt as a corset.

Tilda Swinton has Emma Thompson eye skin and the whole “mumbling through a large mouthful of loose teeth” thing going on.

Diablo Cody who wrote Juno is in leopard and diamond. Lips like a monkey butt.

Ellen Page in a black flapper dress with spaghetti straps, long, long rope necklace.

Harrison Ford as the abominable snowman and Calista Flockhard as an emaciated Nely Galan.

Katherine Heigl in bright red.

Johnny Depp looking studious and devilish.

Viggo Mortensen looking like Kris Kristofferson in a thick multicolored beard.

Cate Blanchett looking like she’s out getting lettuce. Pregnant as a bumpkin and hasn’t combed her hair.

Renee Zellwegger wearing a living diamond, absolutely stunning amazing dress, short hair, she looks great. And I do not like her much. She should have had this haircut years ago. And she should always walk around wearing a crushed chandelier.

That is all. I may add pictures at a later date.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Egyptian Graffiti at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Last week, Joshilyn and I spent a few days stomping around New York City. One of our exciting adventures took us to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was completely a coincidence that we went to this museum the day after we watched the episode of Project Runway where the designers visit to get inspiration from the classical sculpture garden, the European paintings, and the Egyptian temple.

The fact that we did visit all of those exhibits means nothing. We were totally already going to see that Temple of Dendur. Aparently, the US paid Egypt $17 million at some point, to help them with some flooding or some other issue. In return we got to pick one of four temples to have. Have in its entirety -- just uproot and transplant. We picked this one, and he Metropolitan Museum won possession in a lottery with other museums.

Seeing it was wonderful. I always get choked up in the presence of antiquity. It's the same reason I cry at rocket launches. It moves me when our little crawling species attempts to do something fine -- whether it's sending a metal needle up into space, or developing a calendar, or making up a religion. That plaintive reaching, that earnest attempting -- gets me crying. So we were walking up to the temple, and I was having my little emotional moment, and then we got closer where we could look at the carvings and hieroglyphics and whatnot, and I saw this:

You know what that is? GRAFFITI! Graffiti from 1820! Some guy (from New York no less) had scraped his rancorous little name into this Egyptian temple from like 3000 years ago. Now, when we first saw it, we could hardly believe it, because we'd been running a little joke about finding fakes. Like, "Oh, this is a total fake! I see John the Baptist holding a cell phone on this medieval reliquary!" or whatever. However, when we asked the museum guy standing there, he said, yes, it is graffiti, and showed us lots of other places where the temple was marked up. Insane.

The reason it was so interesting (I think) is that 1820 is now antiquity. The day that this guy stood there scraping away with his pocketknife, thinking himself very modern and fresh, is now 200 years ago. Some guy named Biltmore had marked up several different parts of the temple. Biltmore is now dead. His record is now antiquity as well. The graffiti of those early explorers is now part of the historical record. And I, standing there, all shocked and appalled by Biltmore and his buddies, and their defilement, am looking at a temple that has been ripped up out of the earth and transplanted to the middle of Manhattan for dorks like me to get misty over. Layers, my friend. Layers.

New York was fun. We also saw this:

Picasso's portrait of Gertrude Stein. Having finished it, he was unhappy with the face, so he scraped it off and painted another one on later, more overtly mannish and coarse. Interesting. But no one has Sharpied their name into it yet, so it didn't merit its own blog post.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Tom Wolfe: A Man in Full

Since I have been writing about American Idol for two days, I feel the need to elevate the tone of this blog a little. Of course John Irving called this book "entertainment" as opposed to "literature." I'm not going to get into it with John Irving on the merits of various books. John Irving and I have never had a problem before, in all the many times we've exchanged thoughts on art and pop culture.

I very much like entertainment. However, it took me six weeks to read A Man in Full. It is very long. If you had told me on the first of the year that I would spend six weeks of my young, vibrant, fascinating life reading a book about Atlanta politics, real estate developers, bank management, and Stoic philosophy, I would have said, No. However, Wolfe's true subject was one that held me in its thrall from the first chapter, and kept me coming back eagerly, through all 750 pages, during ballet class and through late nights, until the paperback was falling apart from being crammed into my bag. His subject is men. What is it to be a man at the end of the 20th century? What is it to be a man at all? The book follows four men through a twisted plot that would take me several pages to summarize. I'd rather talk about the way the book is written.

Wolfe goes back. Way back. And he goes in. Way in. There are two main characters who meet at the very end of the book, and in a sense the book truly begins when they meet. However, the book begins months in advance of that meeting, and the ostensible impetus for the book is only actually tangentially related to them. There is an alleged crime, if you must know. Which has also got a tangential relation to the real theme (what is a man). The books starts after 700 pages, when the main characters meet for the first time. Using the fake impetus allows Wolfe to begin at the true beginning, when these characters are at a stable place. Then Wolfe can put them in the butter churn and start beating them into butter.
The other thing that I found interesting about the construction of this novel was the episodic nature of the chapters. At the beginning of the book, the chapters focus exclusively on one character or another, and some of them are so brilliantly episodic that they would be amazing short stories, with no context at all. After one of the early chapters about Conrad, the youngest and possibly most sympathetic of the four central men, I shut the book and put it down, because I felt I had just read such a great scene, I had to stop.
Let's talk about the whole concept of sympathetic characters, for a moment. With the exception of Conrad, every one of the men has significant flaws. Even Conrad, if you think about it, is deeply flawed. It's hard to see the flaws of these male characters, however, because they are presented so sympathetically. Well, not sympathetically. The narrative is not sympathetic, but it is exhaustively detailed, claustrophobically close to the characters' consciousnesses, minute. We feel that we know them so well, understand them so well, perceive their contexts and histories so well, it is hard to pull back enough to remember that they are doing things that are pretty reprehensible. It's part of what makes this book so interesting -- the moral ambiguity that's available to the reader, as we are allowed to put on all of these different identities, and really inhabit them without judgment, without even reflecting on right and wrong.
How does Wolfe do this? How does he simultaneously show us all of these slimy lowlifes, and give us permission to cheer for them, to wish them luck, to hope things work out somehow. I am not even sure.

After I recover from the effort, I will read another book by Tom Wolfe. Maybe I Am Charlotte Simmons. Want to trade your copy of that for my copy of this? Wolfe takes a long time to write his novels. I like that about him. A Man In Full was just wonderful. I highly recommend.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Analogy of the Farting Horse

Just when you think you're being insulted, it turns out you're being enlightened.

So I'm working on the book proposal. My friend Susannah recently read a rough draft of the overview. She said, and I'm paraphrasing, "Look, it's a mess, but you're just rusty. It's like you were a horse that was cooped up in his stall all winter, and then he gets let out in the paddock, and he's bucking and farting and bucking and farting, you know?" And after I had finished reeling, and staggering, and after I'd said, "Wow, I've heard rough drafts compared to vomit, and excrement, and saliva, but never a horse fart," she explained, "Hey, it's not a criticism. No one stands there watching that horse thinking he's stupid because he's bucking and farting. He just has to get that out of his system."

So, I think I'm going to embrace the farting horse analogy, actually. There's something joyful and mad about a farting horse. If you've never experienced it, I can't explain it. I'm not going to say it's sublime or anything, but it makes you smile. And bucking, farting horses are certainly not concerned with how their moves are going over in the press.

Monday, January 21, 2008

My Future Shelf

This is the shelf where my non-fiction book will be sold in the future.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Sweeney Todd and Cloned Beef

I am a big fan of Tim Burton. I am a big fan of musicals. I abjectly love Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. And I really like steak. My prediction was that watching Sweeney Todd was going to be the pinnacle of my existence thus far, and that eating cloned beef was going to be pretty much unnoticeable and unexciting. Unfortunately, the movie failed to deliver the kind of rapture I was anticipating. I was ready to revise my top ten list, people! I was ready to make space next to Evita and The City of Lost Children and The Nightmare Before Christmas! We even imposed on our only local relative so we could go and see it in an actual theater. But Sweeney Todd failed to transcend.

The whole thing was a little claustrophobic. The shots too tight. The storyline too controlled. The surfaces too grimy. Where were the sweeping shots, the dazzling landscape, the bitter contrast between in and out, Halloweentown and Christmastown, the woods and the hearth, the suburbs and the castle? In one number only, Burton emerged: during Mrs. Lovett's "By the Sea" song, we saw everything his movies can be: it was like Big Fish and Corpse Bride all in one song.

But that was all, really. The rest was very tight, very close, very monotonous. Johnny Depp looking haunted next to this window, Johnny Depp looking haunted next to that window, and Helena BC rushing up and down the stairs. Did I love it? Well, yes. Of course. Johnny Depp and Alan Rickman sang a duet, using their own voices. Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen made me laugh. The two little birds he cast to play the young lovers were swell. But it just didn't go there, for me. It wasn't beautiful. It wasn't grand. Dark is great, terrible is great, but I need a more expansive scope, a broader arc, a higher swell. Dan says my expectations were too high.

But never fear. A light is dawning on the horizon. Surely cloned beef will satisfy my intestines, where Sweeney Todd has failed to thrill my soul. Or, at least, it will go through my digestive system completely unnoticed, a perfect simulation of regular meat that came about via the original reproductive process. People are cranks. They say it's unnatural, weird, creepy; some even say "abominable." Ever the optimist, I approach my cloned beef consumption with a bright spirit. No, it won't be labelled. No, I won't have any idea when the cloned beef is about to pass my lips. But I have faith that when I spoon up that next bite of chili, so full of such a technological wonder, that I, like those poor souls in Mrs. Lovett's shop, will eat hungrily, happily, without concern. Forget the barber upstairs, people, and enjoy your damned meat pie.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The 2007 National Book Critics Circle Award Finalists

Joyce Carol Oates is nominated by the National Book Critics Circle in two categories: Fiction and Autobiography. Her autobiography is called The Journals of Joyce Carol Oates, 1973–1982. Well, that's one way to do it. I don't know about you but I'm totally pissing my pants with anticipation -- how will I put in the long lonely months before The Journals of Joyce Carol Oates, 1983–1992 comes out?

Her fiction is called The Gravedigger's Daughter, in the glittering tradition of naming things The X's Daughter, where X is something dark and unsavory. Hey it worked for Loretta Lynn and Amy Tan.

Other notable nominations: A biography of Thomas Hardy. A book called American Transcendentalism (How long are people going to waste their time promoting the myth of Emerson?) And finally, the poetry nominees rip their wigs off and light up the night with their awesome titles: Elegy, Modern Life, Sleeping and Waking, The Ballad of Jamie Allan, and New Poems. Next to the stage: Storage, Breathing In and Out in a Steady Predictable Rhythm, and Sand.

CRITICAL MASS: The 2007 National Book Critics Circle Award Finalists

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Renee Zellwegger is Two Girls, Fat and Thin

Before Chick-lit, there was Mary Gaitskill's novel Two Girls, Fat and Thin. My graduate school conspiritors/comrades and I always held this book up contemptuously as one of those books where women sit in the bathtub (no bubbles) and contemplate their thighs (the shape) and feel dreary. That may or may not have actually happened in the text. I may or may not be unfairly remembering this novel as one characterized by half-drawn curtains. I do think that this book is what Chick-lit was, before Chick-lit realized it would be better if books about women didn't make readers want to drink poison. That maybe comedy would occasionally be nice. Anyway, the title of this book has stuck in my mind, across the long merry years, and it's what I was thinking of this week as I watched Renee Zellwegger first in Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, and then in Miss Potter.

Bridget Jones was a screaming nightmare from start to finish. Not funny, nonsensical, and hard to watch. Everyone played their characters so firmly and purposefully and dutifully that we ended up with a Bridget too ruddy, too shiny, too stiff, a Colin Firth with too giant a brick up his too pearly ass, and a Hugh Grant aping across the screen as such an unredeemable playboy, my arms fell off. Nothing good. Particularly nothing good about Renee Zellwegger's complexion. It'll put your eye out. If you're seeking a really exhaustive collection of unflattering necklines, this movie is a must-see. Otherwise, skip. If you haven't already. Which I had. Until now.

Miss Potter, on the other hand, was a mild delight. Ewan MacGregor was freshfaced and bouncy. Renee Zellwegger wore those long heavy skirts like in Cold Mountain. And Emily Watson, who I have relentlessly loathed, ever since she spent all of Breaking the Waves running around in Scotland crying, "JAN, JAN" and biting her lower lip, was actually fantastic. I almost forgive her all that Scottish snivelling. Yeah maybe it wasn't Scotland. Whatever. In this movie, she was kind of horse-boned and likeable. The movie was nearly great -- of course I did *want* to like it, so I may be feeling generous in my response to it, but I really feel like at times it was piercingly beautiful, and really fell through a thousand meanings at once. Not the whole time. But some of the time.

Monday, January 7, 2008

A New Experience

Today I did something I haven't done in ten years. I cold-queried agents. Bolstered by the support and advice of my friends and husband, energized by a new idea for a non-fiction project, I googled and spreadsheeted and perused, and then I sent off my seven little queries.

Just doing that made me feel pretty happy. Every time I clicked "Send" I got a little sicker and a little more interested. I had this idea for the book two weeks ago, and I wrote the chapter list this weekend. Today I worked on the query letter, incorporating significant wisdom and womance from Susannah, and sent it off. So far I've had two positive responses. The next step is to write the book proposal and send that.

This afternoon when I went upstairs, the light coming in the window in the bedroom looked kind of different. We are having a weird kind of indian summer here in Virginia. Or it's because I put my foot on a different kind of pedal than I have put my foot on before. This is not the strange, amorphous pedal of clove smoke and brain waves that is literary fiction. Sometimes pressing on that pedal gives you a sore throat, or a poodle, or a trip to Paraguay. This is a firmer, brighter, more substantial pedal that you can actually see and feel, and if you exert pressure on it, it actually moves according to the Newtonian laws of motion.

At least, that's the impression I have today.

Friday, January 4, 2008

I Have Discovered A Meaning

Sometimes you realize the true meaning of a familiar story suddenly. As if a curtain has been lifted on the face of an old friend, and you suddenly realize that the friend looks like Alf. Or, something more sublime than that.

This hardly *ever* happens to me because I fancy myself so mercilessly perceptive. I block off all possible meanings that I don't immediately perceive. Like, if I didn't get it already, it ain't there to be got.

Tonight, however, I had one of those epiphanies like other people get, you know, people who don't pierce through literature to its underlying message with the scathing accuracy of a whisper-thin rapier.

I figured out what Beauty and the Beast is *really about.*

There is a Chinese fairy tale called "Sing Sun and the Tartar," which has a lot of parallel elements to Beauty and the Beast. Three daughters, one really pretty and smart. The father goes off on a journey, promising to bring each girl a present. The sisters ask for expensive, frivolous things, and Sing Sun asks for a piece of the great wall. While he's hacking off a piece of the wall, the father lets a Tartar through (A tartar is like a hun but more hairy). The Tartar immediately imprisons the father, but promises to let the father go if Sing Sun will marry him. Sing Sun decides to comply, so she goes to live in his nasty tent on the other side of the wall. She rots there, lonely and bored, until he cries over the fact that she'll never love him. At this pivotal moment, she takes pity on him, kisses him, and BAM -- the world is full of butterflies and he's a handsome prince! I left out the part about a goldfish telling her, "You have to be kind to the Tartar, or you will never marry the prince." Everyone is happy forever and Sing Sun has her prince to marry. Excellent.
I realized, reading this version of the story, that the point of the story isn't that appearances are deceiving, that sometimes princes don't always look like princes, etc. The point of the story is that LOVE TRANSFORMS. So, you could say that the beast was a prince all along, or you could say that the PRINCE IS STILL A BEAST. Are you totally feeling me? In the Chinese version, there is no fairy, no enchantment, no last petal of the rose to drop. The Tartar is the Prince is the Tartar. The beast is the man is the beast. What changes is not the man, but the woman.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Never Admit Defeat

I guess it may turn out to be that I am the last person in the universe to conclude that I am incapable of writing books for children.

My two closest friends, both successful writers, have expressed deep concern over the state of this manuscript. One has said, repeatedly, "It is the worst thing you have ever written." The other said that you need to be 50 years old to read it. In other words, not accessible to the 8-12 year old market for which I am aiming.

My two closest family members loved it. Beyond measure. Well, bully for me. I managed to convince my husband and one parent. I must be a freakin' genius. Kristen likes it. That makes one person who's not related to me. One.

The thing is, I do not believe the negative criticism. At all. I think it is a great book. It may not be finished, but it is great. More importantly, it is what I want. I want to write this book, perfect this book, publish this book, and read this book in public. None of my other projects, more sophisticated and literary in nature, make me feel pride. They all seem like, well, okay, I wrote this knobby thing. It may divert you.

I have concluded that the book needs something major, something sweeping, something to change the entire thing. Something holistic. Something never seen before under the sun. When it has that, the diction won't matter.

For now, I am going to keep working through it, revising and embellishing it. It's like decorating a lamp with buttons and beads. If you really love the lamp and every bead makes you love it more. Liking the work this much, how can I be completely wrong about it?

In the process of doing this, I will have a big idea that will change the whole book. I have them for other people. Why shouldn't I have one for me?

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year

I've been trying to watch the movie "Miss Potter" for months. It's one of those movies that I have to bring into the house at the proper time, to prevent marital unrest. It seemed like tonight was the night: husband is mildly ill, swamped with work, and looking forward to playing Age of Empires for a couple hours before falling into a Nyquil fog.

Me: Hi. Will you watch Miss Potter with me tonight?
Him: Miss Potter. What's that about?
Me: Love in the 19th century. And Aunt Jemima Puddleduck.

I would say it has Renee Zellwegger but that is not a selling point. He likes to see the whole pupil, if you know what I mean.

Him: Um, yes. Whatever. I'm probably going to die in a few minutes anyway.
Me: YES! I promise, you don't even have to watch it. You can pretend to watch while you play the game. And I won't bring any more chick movies into the house this year.
Him: Urg.


So we watched "Trust the Man" on HBO On Demand instead. It was actually pretty great. Applause, David Duchovny. Applause to you.