Monday, June 26, 2006

The Arty Winds of Change

Ben and I watched Elephant last night, Gus Van Sant’s movie loosely based on Columbine. Not sure I’ve thought the whole thing through yet, it was done in a very slow-paced, arty way, and most of it was set in the hours before the shootings, none of it at all in the aftermath, so you get to know a bunch of these kids and then they’re just gone, which is probably a lot of the point. I went into seeing the movie having forgotten completely what it was about – I was like, god, this is an awfully lovely Gus Van Sant movie, I kinda like these kids – for some reason I had the mistaken idea that it was maybe going to be like River’s Edge. Then I said to Ben, Oh, no, is this that Columbine movie? And finally they get more into the two boys plotting about the day and stuff, very similar to the real incident. And afterward I was left much as I was when it happened (minus the violent sobbing). How does this happen? How does one boy get to the point in his mind where they’re thinking about this in a really serious way – AND – how do the parents not notice even the moderately obvious signs (less obvious than, you know, hoarding guns and ammo in the garage) that their children are struggling? Then complicate that when the kid meets a like-minded kid? What is the psychology here? I don’t suppose there’s a simple answer to this, but is it about lack of parenting, genetic tendencies, some sort of complex group psychology, what?

Anyway, on a lighter note, Ben set his alarm for six-thirty am last night and since it’s his first Monday after leaving his job for school, I said Why are you getting up so early? He said Cuz I have to get up and go to work... ART work!

Friday, June 23, 2006

Senseless Words Part Two

So yesterday I began efforts to replace AOL by ordering a new internet server. I don’t even want to get into how many hours this took. Many. In any case, as usual I was having trouble downloading the necessary software, and on the second lengthy phone call, in an effort to talk me through it, the phone person gave me a url, which she spelled out like this: blah blah blah dot com slash d as in dog, s as in sam, k as in pillow. Wait, what? I said K as in what? K as in pillow she repeated. I should add she had a faint trace of an accent, hard to place, but I said K as in – and so stuck on K as in pillow was I, I drew a blank on any k words (durr), and she said it again, “as in pillow.” Okay, I hope at least one of you finds this as funny as I do, every time I retell it. Even after we got disconnected (of course), I could not think of what possible word she was actually saying. I told this to Ben last night (thankfully he too cracked up) and he finally came up with what she probably said – K as in kilo – kilo pronounced “killow”.
Anyway, someday, without a doubt, I will have to write a story called “K as in Pillow.”

Thursday, June 22, 2006


This morning, writing in my journal, I wrote the word “maken.”

I have no idea what I meant. Context indicates I might have meant “made”, but it’s still unclear.

It does not ever help me at all that my handwriting is close to illegible, even to me.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

I Have Had Conversations Like This

This guy Vincent Ferrari was on Today this morning with this audiotape of him trying to cancel hia AOL account, and the only reason it’s funny is because it wasn’t me. I haven’t tried to cancel AOL (yet, but it’s in the works). But whenever I’ve tried to cancel a credit card account, it’s been much the same. I’d like to cancel my account. Oh, well, let me just look at your account here. I see you’ve been a customer for some time. Yep. Why do you want to cancel? I don’t need the card anymore. Well we have a special rate right now. That’s okay. I just want to cancel. Are you unhappy? No. Cancel my card please. Have we offended you in some way? No. Well then why are you trying to cancel? Because I can. Please cancel my card. It’s just that I don’t understand why. You don’t have to even try. Just cancel my card. I think if you told me why... I could make something up. There’s no need for that. I’ve asked you nicely about ten times now.
Anyway, my favorite line from this is “Turning off AOL would be the worst thing that...” The guy doesn’t finish, but one’s imagination runs wild. To me, I pretty much imagine the sentence ends with nothing less than the apocalypse.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia

My haircutter mentioned this show the other day, told me he happened to meet the cast when he was in LA and he was totally geeked out. I hadn’t heard of it, as it’s a cable show. Then they put a couple episodes on Fox. I now know why Nelson got so geeked. Check it.

Monday, June 19, 2006

I Made Pancakes From Scratch

It’s true. I had a yen for pancakes yesterday and went all the way out of the house to the store to get bacon to go with. Came home to find we were out of pancake mix. Ben said he’d made them from scratch last time. I said How did you do that? Do you have a recipe? He said No, I just randomly tossed some stuff in a bowl and hoped for the best.

So I followed a recipe. Flour plus water plus eggs plus butter plus baking powder plus sugar. Not hard. Came out good.

My cooking from scratch list now includes:

meat loaf
mashed potatoes
pasta sauce
barbecue sauce

Friday, June 16, 2006

Stars – They Really Are Just Like Us! No I Mean It!

I was obligated, of course, to watch the entirety of Matt Lauer's interview with Britney last night on Dateline, and although I was temporarily distracted by Matt’s lack of socks with his loafers, I am forced to reiterate my thoughts on Britney Spears and why I feel for her where all I feel about the likes of, say, Jessica and Ashleeee, is dead inside. Britney is very upset (to the point of tears) about the paparazzi and the press saying all these terrible things about her, and her husband, and especially about whether or not she’s a bad mom. I kinda want to defend her motherhood even though it’s impossible to know what she’s like at home, but her public mistakes (almost tripping with the baby, driving with the baby in her lap, etc.) are mistakes people make every day, they’re just not usually caught on film. Our celebrity-obsessed culture focuses on one mom and her little mistakes simply because she’s famous while there are kids who are being physically abused every day going unnoticed because, you know, they’re anonymous. And so Britney says, crying, “People forget we’re just people.”
Here’s the thing, though. Britney’s all about ‘being herself” and on the one hand you gotta give it up to her for that – her mascara alone was a mess last night and she had on a sheer, low cut maternity top and as usual, was chewing gum through the whole interview, which doesn’t lend her an air of maturity. She might have done well to do what everyone does and hire a stylist and a publicist to take the gum out of her mouth, but she didn’t, and if the option is Jessica Simpson, um, ick. Anyway, she’s twenty-four years old. I shudder to think what my world would have been like had it been captured on film back then. I have said many times, I really think that when people have this drive to be famous, I think they often just have no way of preparing for what comes along with that, and then when it happens, they’re understandably upset but there’s almost never any responsibility, no one ever says, I chose this package deal. Do I think the paparazzi is completely out of control? For sure. Even more heartbreaking to me is that Britney kept saying, “I’m fine, I’m happy – It just makes me a stronger person.” And I’ve heard this so often from young people, myself first and foremost – and with a few years on me I think, you know, yeah, I always was a strong person, I was always “fine,” but I see now that my strength isn’t my imperviousness to pain. It’s my willingness to accept it.
Can I just say, though, Britney, you only have a housekeeper once a week? You like cleaning? Even my family had a housekeeper once a week! Man, if I had the money I’d have a guest house just for the housekeeper.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Monday, June 12, 2006

Scarface: The Blanket

One of those dollar stores in the neighborhood has several of those Disney-movie themed plush blankets in the window, you know, the kind with Cinderella, or Snow White or what have you? Except the one they’ve chosen to put front and center of the window display features a giant Al-Pacino-As-Scarface. Yes, I know this is very popular in certain circles, on jackets and sweatshirts and other casual apparel. But on a comforter? Giant Al Pacino in black white and red? I’m going to say: Not comforting.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Thus Concludes Saunders Week

Folks, I am so delighted about the way this week has gone, and I thank you heartily for participating. You have all helped me in my ongoing life mission to repopularize the short story, and I am so grateful. Please feel free to add more comments if you have them! I have to go bake cupcakes and clean my house for the party, which is on RAIN OR SHINE. We’ll just move it inside, if anyone’s wondering.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Saunders Week Endures!

Below are a few links to interviews with Saunders (there are countless others online, including one from Time Out London with some especially goofy questions - and answers) which I post as means to asking: How does hearing his thoughts about what he's trying to do illuminate (destroy?) your own experience of the work? I threw the word destroy in there because although I think it's unlikely in this case, I've read interviews with authors sometimes that have utterly baffled me. In the case of Saunders, I tend to feel like, oh good, I actually have gotten it, and also, he seems to be able to articulate himself, about his strengths and limitations as a writer, in interviews in a way I never seem to be able to. Perhaps this is both my strength and my limitation, but when people ask me questions about where my stories come from, sometimes I feel like the most honest answer is, “Seriously, I pulled this out of my ass.”




Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Saunders Part Three

You guys are killing me. This is going so much better than I could have even hoped for!
So, relevant to my freaky smart cousin Matt's comment yesterday here is my question for the day:
What do you think is at the core of what Saunders is trying to say in these stories?
Personally I think Dean and Matt are both right, but I'm just going to repost a few of Matt's comments here because there's no way I could say it better:

"...imagine a world where presumed societal controls go off the tracks somewhat to the point where they are not recognized as societal controls and where understanding of them becomes lost even to the folks that either forged them or fought against them. Imagine if the individual’s sense of history or perspective was dictated entirely by the control structure without any hope of intellectual freedom. Is “abnormal” behavior actually “abnormal” when you can’t possibly know any better and the hope for perspective zero?" Dang, cuzzzin, m'i acshully related to ewe?

But I will also reiterate that as strange as it may seem I find these stories incredibly hopeful. I don't suppose many of these folks will get any sort of perspective - but I do see them having variations of faith that no matter how irrational, or perhaps, unlikely, in any given case, seems critical to dealing with the world as it is.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Saunders Week: Day Two

You guys are rocking it with your comments and I am so psyched! So what I would like to do is ask that you continue to comment on whichever questions you feel like, the new ones or ones from the previous days. And my question for today is: Does any of this over-the-top stuff bear any resemblance to your own lives? If so, how? Because although I haven’t been part of a conventional workplace for a very long time, from what I remember, the way he portrays the workplace is not all that far off. Power struggles, people just trying to get by, stupid office-speak, etc. And for me, even when he veers off into the completely unreal, there are instances where I feel alarmingly close in spirit to these people. Both in In Persuasion Nation and CommComm, over the top as they are, I feel like, yep, I’ve thought like that before. Which maybe, yes, explains years of therapy and what have you on my part, but nevertheless there it is.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Book Club Is Here! Welcome to Saunders Week!

Okay, so easy discussion question to start. Which story/stories were your favorite(s) and why? I think I’ve already written about my love for CommComm and In Persuasion Nation here, so I’ll start by saying that another favorite of mine was Adams. One of the things I love about Saunders is that his characters have what seem to be contradictory character traits. The narrator of this story is talking about “wonking” his neighbor Adams in the first paragraph, so we know he has a violent, angry streak, but we know right away that at least in this case it’s because he perceives a threat to his children. Okay, and let me pause right now to say that where Saunders comes up with a word like “wonk” I don’t know, but it’s so specific, and so perfect, and somehow in my mind, softens the violence of this man, like, makes it less threatening even though it seems clear that this wonking is pretty not good. Anyway, so but then the story goes on and we find out he’s kind of obsessed with Adams, and he thinks about the lengths he would go to to protect his kids, and then the last page and a half, in my opinion, are just so gorgeously painful, when he talks what he’ll miss about his wife and kids if he dies, yahhh!!! So, to come around to the point I was trying to make, here’s this guy who’s willing to battle violently because of this huge love. And it makes me think about so many things, like, I don’t have kids, but I’ve written a couple of stories now about characters who do, or are about to, and I have to say, I think I have more than a little Roger in me. I would totally, at the very least, think about wonking anyone who hurt my kids, and I don’t even have any yet.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Tommy Do You Feel Me?

When I was about ten years old my mom and stepdad took me to see this movie called The Music Lovers, about the life of Tchaikovsky. In retrospect, I’m sure they were expecting, well, I don’t know what they were expecting, but I’m sure they weren’t expecting a Ken Russell movie. And although they were never overly concerned with age-appropriate material where I was concerned (I was the kid reading Cosmo and the Harrad Experiment when I was like, twelve), I think they were probably surprised at the focus in the film on the “Lovers” at least as much the “Music,” and I recall quite well a scene where someone, Glenda Jackson I think, has cholera, covered with open sores, and at this time they think that the cure for cholera is to throw someone into a scalding bath, so there’s naked Glenda Jackson covered with sores and she’s boiling and I’m like, ten.

All this to say that when I was fourteen, I didn’t get to go see Tommy with my friends. Admittedly I can’t remember the specifics of why, but there was a lot of talk at the time about how outrageous it was, and so as usual, the cool kids at school were out seeing Tommy and Elton John concerts and Nina and I were home on Saturday nights watching Donnie and Marie.

I have finally seen Tommy. And it for sure holds up in it’s outrageously tripped out weirdness, if not in – well, it was 1975. Does anything from then hold up very well? Anyway, I have a feeling that had I seen it in 1975, the sight of Ann-Margret in a crocheted halter jumpsuit rolling around in a combination of baked beans, chocolate, and soap suds, I would have been at least as traumatized as seeing naked choleric Glenda Jackson boiling.

So, thanks for that, folks. Sometimes parents do know best.

Friday, June 02, 2006

The Best Underground Fiction

I have been remiss in mentioning that my story "Blue Girl" is featured in this rad new anthology. I am in the esteemed company of Joe Meno, Steve Almond, Irvine Welsh, John McNally, Sam Lipsyte, and more, and Mr. Todd Dills wrote a nice Crane-centered piece about it in this week’s Reader.

I Don’t Think I’m A Cronenberg Fan

Ben and I watched A History of Violence the other night – ah, I dunno, I was expecting something different. But for me, I’m just not into the sex and violence/surf and turf kind of thing. You know? (semi-spoiler alert) Like, if I suddenly found out Ben had a previous life in the Philadelphia mob (I didn’t think so, but I double checked, and he denied it), I think I would be angry about being deceived but I would not express my anger by having sex with him on the stairs after he tried to strangle me. Thinking back to Crash (the other one), I for sure am also not turned on by car crashes. Maybe that’s just me.

Don’t Forget About Saunders

Okay, kids, next week is the inaugural standBy Bert Book Club/In Persuasion Nation Week over here and my hope is to keep it as casual as it might be if we were actually sitting around someone’s living room, but in the interest of some sort of coherence, I will attempt some small version of moderating by posing one extremely broad question each day for you to ponder and respond to (in the comment box as usual) and which we can all respond back to until we’re done responding to all the responses. Dig? Can't wait!