Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Reading report!

Someone this weekend (was it Keith Newton?) said he wanted to see a blog that dissected how and why the poems in the New Yorker suck so much from week to week. I volunteered to take that on, but yesterday I saw that Rauan Klassnik had beat me to it.

Aside from having my (Keith's) idea for "content generation" jacked, Rauan's classification of most of the six sample poems as "squirrel poems" caught my eye:
A squirrel poem's where you see a squirrel and meditate on it: its condition, plight, consciousness, conscience, prescience, messy-ness, etc, etc. Then you think of yourself. An epiphany occurs. Light or dark. Black or white. Sometimes striped. Like a skunk. Usually a circle's made. It's quite inspiring. Damnit! It makes me wretch! (I should go check my own poems. Probably a bunch of squirrels in there too. Wretch! Wretch! Wretch!)
My impression is that a squirrel poem needn't actually contain a squirrel, but the fact of the matter is, I have a squirrel poem, in which I quite literally meditate on a squirrel. Although, my squirrel is dead ... which I guess means it falls in the union of squirrel poems and roadkill poems, probably another New Yorker favorite. If I were a Dickman, I woulda had it made.

I sent Rauan the link and he said he would re-post it with squirrellustrations soon. I've prepared myself for likely mockery.


This morning while eating breakfast I flipped through a Rolling Stone, the nearest reading material that would lie open flat; I think John got a free subscription or something. I don't really keep up with music these days, and tend to associate Rolling Stone with butt rock anyway (Megan Fox is on the cover), so I went straight for the "fashion" spread (mostly plaid), which was unexpectedly hilarious. It features Scarlett Johansson and Pete Yorn who recently released a concept album of duets about a fictional breakup.

Actually, that's not what made me laugh; it was Pete Yorn's quote about why it's only just now coming out when they recorded it in 2007: "I sat on it because I was protective of it, and of Scarlett, too. But every so often, she would text me and say, 'I'm listening to our record. I love it!' So I put it on and realized how proud I am of it."

[Insert maniacal internal laughter]

If that's not an admission that he thought the album royally sucked, I don't know what is. Later in the piece, we're informed that Pete Yorn had never even heard ScarJo sing when he asked her to do it! He just, presumably, liked her boobs. God, SCARJO. You're so pointless.

Then I spilled soymilk all over the magazine which seems to have fused most of the pages together. Interesting.


On the train to New London on Friday I finished Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?, while sipping a bourbon and ginger on the cafe car. I had envisioned this ahead of time as being somewhat romantical, but Marstall assured me drinking on an Amtrak is about "as romantic as an Arbee's" [sic]. WWRTFH was pretty good, though it seemed kind of padded, like it could have been a 100-page novella instead of a 200-page novel.

Now, uncharacteristically, I'm reading a nonfiction book: An Anthropologist on Mars by Oliver Sacks, the first "paradoxical tale" of which makes reference to many of the same philosophers as Maggie Nelson's Bluets. It's about an abstract expressionist painter who goes colorblind, as in, he only sees in grayscale (achromotopsia) following an accident and concussion.

This quote was embedded in a footnote, from a woman who was born with a similar condition:
People say I must see in shades of gray or in "black and white," but I don't think so. The word gray has no more meaning for me than the word pink or blue--in fact, even less meaning, because I have developed inner concepts of color words like pink and blue; but, for the life of me, I can't conceive of gray.
Girl's got no eigengrau! To quote myself, quoting my ex-landlord Korie, quoting some man who blew her mind in like, the seventh grade, "When you're blind, you don't see black, you just don't see."

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Napoleon Dynamite of poetry

If poetry had a recommendation system like Netflix, I think people who bought stuff by me would get recommendations for Heather Christle. (I guess Amazon does this too? Is it accurate? Would a poetry-specific algorithm be better or are the people who buy small-press poetry the only people who buy small-press poetry, if you know what I mean? So it works anyway? My Amazon recs include so much random shit because I have ordered, like, textbooks and baby shower presents through the same account, over the span of ~10 years. Order one Philip Glass CD and they think you're some kind of contemporary classical aficionado for the rest of your life, etc.) Probably if you bought any contemporary poetry it would recommend The Man Suit.

I'm trying to figure out what the poetic equivalent of Napoleon Dynamite would be. Supposedly, Napoleon Dynamite is one of a handful of very polarizing movies that totally stumped Netflix's recommendation engine. It couldn't reliably recommend it to anyone based on the other movies they had liked. (I happen to love it.) Hence the Netflix Prize, a competition that offered $1 million to any team that could improve the recommendation algorithm by 10%. I quit Netflix before they declared a winner, so I can't say if the recommendations have gotten substantially better. Actually I don't even know if it's been put into effect yet.

Anyway what poet or book of poetry is unpredictably polarizing? Tao Lin is polarizing, but generally in a predictable way. Same with Billy Collins. It needs to be someone that is occasionally embraced by those whose tastes otherwise run counter. I think it needs to be kind of a cult figure. Maybe Bill Knott? With a lot of cult figures in poetry (Jack Spicer, Russell Edson) I don't know anyone who dislikes them. (P.S. I've been meaning to post this great Edson poem about flies.)

Once someone asked me what the difference between an algorithm and a logarithm is. That was my Napoleon Dynamite. It totally stumped me. I mean, aside from rhyming (and being anagrams I guess), they are two totally different words. It's like asking what's the difference between a molecule and a meerkat. Except that's less confusing, because in the first case your brain does search in vain for something in common beside letters. I guess molecules and meerkats have something in common: cuteness.

It's the first day of fall! I'm so anal that it actually kind of irritates me when people say "Fall has arrived!" when it's technically still summer. So thank god I can say goodbye to that annoyance for another year. What also sucks is those girls who start wearing like fur vests and over-the-knee boots in September even if it's still 76 degrees out. And then try to claim they're "always cold" to justify parading their new fashions prematurely. Whatever dude, I can see your sweat trickle.

Friday, September 18, 2009

I'm going to do something a little embarrassing and wrong ****SPOILER**** so if you loathe self-promotion in all its forms stop reading now. I want to link to something a little gushy about me. It's the intro to a reading I did in New York last year (on Election Day ... I remember because afterward I ate tacos with Jared and Farrah and Julia and then Jared and Farrah and I went to a very crowded gallery/bar to watch the results come in and then we got very drunk with both happiness and actual alcohol ...). Levi Rubeck, who invited me to read in the Periodically Speaking series representing Washington Square, wrote the intro and recently reposted it on his blog.

It's partially embarrassing because he goes on a bit about my translation skillz and I really only dabble in translation, I'm not exactly a world-traveling polyglot here. But he also talks about my chapbook, and the thing is, it's kinda one of the best reviews I've ever gotten. So there's the link for my mom and I guess Justin, most excellent proprietor of Kitchen Press, and anyone who likes reading nice statements about people other than themselves (weirdos).

Thanks to Levi Rubeck for writing it, it made me blush to the extreme (more so when I heard it the first time and was nervous and had a big sidecar in me than when I read it again in the privacy of my own home, but still).

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

How to Read: Tips & Tricks!

I learned from Tyler Cowen to abandon books. If you're not enjoying it, abandon. Abandon with abandon. You'll actually end up reading more, by moving on to something you'd rather be reading. I abandoned The Echo Maker, for now if not forever. It seemed fine, but the prose was florid and writerly in a way that made it difficult for me to concentrate on on the train, and that's when I read, so. I switched to Lorrie Moore's Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? which I read good things about in a review of her new novel. It's kind of like a cross between YA and a memoir, which makes for easy train reading, if not the most satisfying reader experience. (My problem is I'm so distractable. I like to look at couples having private conversations and check out women's clothes.)

John does this a lot, this abandoning, though he wouldn't call it that, and it's less because he isn't enjoying the book and more because he loves books so much he can't stop buying more of them all the time and then can't wait to start them. So our coffee table is always thoroughly littered with unfinished books.

Tyler Cowen also advocates throwing books away if they're bad. Don't sell them or donate to a library; remove the offending material, the potential brain poison from the set of readable things. How do we feel about this? Is this a more active form of a bad review, a refusal to create publicity of any kind for garbage? Or does it smack of fascism?

I advocate reviewing books for personal gain. (Or writing "essays" if you prefer.) It forces one to finish the book and be contemplative about it. This makes you smarter and helps you appreciate other books more. Compounding personal benefits! Benefits to the author, press and public are secondary.

I advocate keeping a book or non-trashy magazine in one's (my) bag at all times so one is (I am) never forced to read the Metro. The Metro printed the following headline last week:

US Poverty at Disturbing Low

They meant the opposite of course, but a "newspaper" can't call you-know-what-I-meansies. That is appalling. Plus, the accompanying graphic looked like this:

Seeing as "in America" we read left to right, this makes it look like the poverty rate is indeed going down. Metrotards.

While I'm at it, how dumb is it that the Weekly Dig has a five-star rating system in which two stars equal "average" and one star equals "meh"? Doesn't "meh" pretty much mean average? According to Urban Dictionary it signifies indifference; it's a "verbal shrug." For the love of God, can't things get worse than meh? I mean shouldn't three stars, which is plumb in the middle of the scale, symbolize averageness or that-which evokes-meh, with one star reserved for the horrible? What happens when the next Howard the Duck comes out? OK, I kind of like Howard the Duck. It's like, "What did you think of the terrorist attack?" "Meh."

Monday, September 14, 2009

Things I've been thinking about lately

* How much I indulge in high-definition nostalgia -- remembering periods of my life in excruciating detail, which makes me quite sad, mostly because I start to miss the people I used to spend time with and can't anymore because we have different lives. As sad as it makes me, I won't and don't want to stop doing it.

* How much older I feel, both mentally and physically, than I did a couple of years ago. I can't decide if it's real -- 2009 has been an unusually stressful year for me and stress really manifests in my body and well-being -- or if it's just the fact that I'm turning 30 in November. I keep going back and forth. Does the number itself bother me more than I'm willing to admit to myself? Am I imagining myself older or worse, willing myself older? Does everybody actually get noticeably older at 30? I have started to invest more in skin products.

* How dreadful the medical industry is, this instinct to throw medicine at the problem. When medicine doesn't really correlate strongly with health. I like my doctor very much, but whenever I complain about some new ailment, she urges me to take vitamins. This irritates me. I don't really believe in isolating nutrients from food, and nearly all the food I eat is vitamin-rich/non-processed. I spend a fair amount of money on groceries in order to eat well, why should I have to spend yet more money on supplements? Especially when there's little to no evidence that they do anything. I'm not interested in treatments, I'm interested in causes. We seem in the end to know very little about causes. I am also very irritated at the amount I pay for insurance, when I still have to pay for basic treatments.

* Is my anxiety about getting old just displaced fear of my mother dying? I don't want my dad to die either, but my mother's health is far more precarious.

* Have I become a major downer lately?

* Fall clothes: I want to buy them.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

NES: A Romance

When I was in high school a group of guys formed a kind of club, a kind of preparatory frat called NES. This didn't stand for Nintendo Entertainment System (or I might remember them more fondly) but rather Never Ever Sober. They made t-shirts that said "NES" over the left breast and had cartoon beer mugs on the back and they'd wear them on Fridays (probably; I should fake certainty in the style of a memoir) with their self-made boot-cut jeans (snipped and frayed along the outside seams at the hem)--this last bit I actually found kind of fashiony.

Despite knowing these guys to be basically major d-bags, I had a crush on one of them when I was 15. He was a year older (at the point when that seemed like a lot), his name was Howard and I called him, to be quite honest, Howie. I'm pretty sure the crush was mutual; he was always "grabbing my ass," as the saying went, in the hallways and one time a few years later he kind of kidnapped me from a party and took me to the bar where the NES crew was often served underage.

I don't think it was so much shyness on my part or the girlfriend on his that kept us apart, but the fact that we came from different worlds. He was in NES, I was in NHS. (Actually I wasn't, but that would be a good James Freyian detail to fake.) We both knew it wouldn't have worked because I was evidently so much smarter than him. I mean, he cheated off me in "Keyboarding." The guy on my other side, a hardcore, tattooed, shaved-headed guy whose name just now returns to me, it was Kyle, he cheated off me too, and probably also had a crush on me. In those days it was something of a badge of honor not to freak out when one was being openly harassed. (I learned that skill too well, I think, and tend to remain emotionally placid while intellectually appalled.)

15/16 was a hard age. I was old enough to know what was cool, what I liked, but not old enough to access it. No one at my high school was really "my type." Probably because it's nearly impossible to be my type (extremely secure/self-confident despite not fitting into the mainstream ideal of the American boy/man; my type is a combination of ego and the weird) until you're 20 or so. I mean if you're sort of androgynous and prefer reading poetry or playing chess to team sports, it's hard to be very egotistical in high school, at least without it seeming like a grand front. And in fact it probably is. For lack of smart, confident, unconventionally attractive men at Franklin High, my sexual energy got directed at people like Howard instead.

Even in college, I really wasn't interested in anyone in my class. I spent most of my freshman year crushing on a senior who, again, wasn't available. But that's really a story/post in itself, I think, so I'm going to take a tip from Dan Boehl and serialize this mini-memoir/romance. Stay tuned.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Project Runway hates on weird

Last night I caught up on the first three episodes of the new season of Project Runway. I'd heard it was pretty much the same since moving from Bravo to Lifetime, but I think they've made some unsavory changes in a misguided attempt to please a perceived new audience (or not misguided, I don't know America). One is that all the challenges seemed very girly; PR has typically mixed girly challenges (red carpet gowns, clothes for moms, etc.) with sort of gender-neutral, if not macho, challenges, like designing outfits for sporting events or out of car parts or something. But maybe that'll change over the course of the season.

The more disappointing change was a fairly overt, I thought, disapproval of the weird. The cast is very usual-suspects for the most part: attractive gay men of various degrees of flamboyance, cute, funky young women, a couple of older women, the token "dude's dude," etc. There are usually, also, a couple of more "out there" designers with more of a kooky vision. These people don't tend to win but they are given a chance. This season, however, the footage was edited in such a way as to make these two people seem intolerably annoying if not outright insane, and to boot, despite decent showings, they were the first two kicked off.

This really bothered me for a couple of reasons. (I mean, as much as I'll allow TV, which kind of fundamentally sucks, to bother me.) One, I'm sure these two designers (a woman named Ari who was into highly conceptual, functional, futuristic garb and an Asian with a mohawk named Malvin who was less off the charts but still weird by TV standards) represented themselves exactly as they are on their audition tapes. Why were they cast on the show at all if the judges, producers, etc. have no tolerance for the weird? It was almost like they wanted to make an example out of these people, like, Heads up America, weird doesn't sell. It basically seemed mean, like agreeing to a date with someone just to stand them up.

Secondly, the same guy was in the bottom two both times, and both times squeaked by, even though he was evidently incompetent and had nothing to offer, besides being normal, at least by fashion standards and in comparison to the Exemplars of the Weird. This guy, Mitchell, made the wrong size dress in the first challenge, so he had to basically throw the extra material (which was sheer and nude like stockings) over his model; there was little to no actual sewing or design involved and it didn't even look sexy. In the second challenge, he made an incredibly sloppy looking pair of shorts (both oversized and way too short) and a too-tight t-shirt, created for a pregnant woman; Heidi herself said it looked like she had sewn them ("And I can't sew."). Both times, Mitchell was saved by Ari and then Malvin saying too much about their krazy koncepts. The gang called their designs "bizarre" and "unwearable," when truly they were rather more wearable, by virtual of actually being clothes, than Mitchell's less-than-half-assed piles of scraps.

Mitchell finally got booted in the third episode when he was named "team captain" of a two-person team and did essentially nothing, but at least admitted it. His partner actually won the challenge but he still got voted off.

What the hell, Project Runway? Did he know somebody or what? If "there are no excuses on Project Runway," what's your excuse for keeping this chump on as long as you did when he displayed zero evidence of talent, skill or dedication? I've half a mind to boycott this shit. Someone has to stand up for the weird.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


Consistently the best part of my day during the week occurs around 11 p.m., when I have to go to bed in order to get eight hours of sleep; John generally stays up later reading or watching Bulgarian bootlegs of current box-office movies. But he always comes into the bedroom to kiss me goodnight and usually spends about five minutes lying next to me and petting me like a cat.

Here's a graph of my endorphin spikes during the day:

The local maxima are meal-times, with small spikes occurring when I read something really interesting online or do something particularly engaging at work. The big peak at the end is cuddle time. (Sorry that kind of looks like the skyline of a futuristic slum.)

I don't hear single people complain about being hard up for cuddling, but it seems like it's at least as important as sex.

No spike for me tonight; John's home in Connecticut for a couple of days. I guess the best part of my day today was buying some shoes, though picking out comfortable flats to wear to work at DSW is hardly the most luxurious of consumer experiences. Living in Boston, a walking city with four very weathery seasons, my shoes only last a year or two tops, unless I never wear them, which would only be the case if they turn out to hurt like shit. I hate when something wears out before I'm sick of it. Which can take a long time. I have some clothes I've been wearing since high school. Not jeans though. Jeans, and asses, age fast.

Has my blogging been too "personal" lately? Remember, I take requests.

P.S. I once had a big argument with Steve Breyak, a writer I went to grad school with, about the gender of the Snuggle bear. I mean, duh, right? It's a guy!

P.S. Just to clarify, I bought the shoes at DSW. I don't work there.