Sunday, November 29, 2009

What I learned on my Thanksgiving vacation

Dan Brown is a real living author.

Dan Brown is all over the best-seller lists.

Dan Brown is an author you NEED to get to know and F-A-S-T.

Dan Brown is trying to create literature.

Dan Brown is the first to admit that his stories do not depict reality.

Dan Brown is a ridiculously nice guy.

Dan Brown is so easy to make fun of, there is no excuse for doing it poorly.

Dan Brown is a boyscout insofar as the Conspiracy goes.

Dan Brown is simply cashing in on what were formerly only labeled as "Conspiracy Theories."

Dan Brown is composed of at least 5 distinct authors.

Dan Brown is a lier.

Dan Brown is actually a cover for the global machinations of Goldman Sachs.

Dan Brown is going to be the ruin of us all.

Many people buy Dan Brown's books, and Dan Brown is very rich.

I mean, you have to keep in mind that Dan Brown is not an historian. Dan Brown is simply an agent for the craft trying to open the eye of the mind of the masses.

Everybody knows that despite getting most of his facts wrong, Dan Brown is American culture's preeminent religious thinker.

Dan Brown is just a writer, who makes stuff up. It’s not real.

Dan Brown is one of my favorite writers and I am also tempted to download the ebook.

Dan Brown is renowned for his stories that mix history with intrigue and, of course, codes.

'Dan Brown' is like my 5th favorite 'artist.'

Dan Brown is America.

Dan Brown is a brand now. And Dan Brown is no paranoid kook.

Dan Brown is not, as some of his more trenchant Catholic critics would have it, a dangerous fraud, a cynical corrupter of biblical truths.

DAN BROWN IS INNOCENT

Dan Brown is responsible for writing The Da Vinci Code.

Dan Brown is a great writer, I won't let the media tell me what to think, or read any negative comments.

Please remember that Dan Brown is a fiction writer!

The 'key' to reading Dan Brown is to allow your mind to go into overdrive and try to predict everything and then surprise yourself when you are no where near!

Anyway, Dan Brown is a massive fuckwit

Ahh, Dan Brown. Is there anyone better at the contemporary, hyper-educated thriller?

The other possibility is that Dan Brown is a cyborg, which can't be ruled out at this stage.

Apparently Dan Brown is just as ignorant as those tattoo yahoos.

It could very well be that Dan Brown is a willing participant in one of the biggest disinformation campaigns waged by the Illuminati in history.

Dan Brown is no Robert Ludlum.

We said above that the "author" property value of "The DaVinci Code" is "Dan Brown." It's OK to consider that property value to be of value type "text," but since Dan Brown is actually a person, there's more we can do.

My confession: I think Dan Brown is terrific -- just like millions of others.

Although Dan Brown is naive in his depiction of the sexual component of goddess worship, his books are well researched and thorough. Go with it … suspend disbelief and enjoy the ride.

Dan Brown is a savvy entrepreneur.

Dan Brown is doing his best.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

True stories

Hypothesis: A bad play is better than a mediocre movie, because a live performance, when it fails, fails in interesting and complicated ways (Is it usually better? Usually worse? Who is at fault, one or many? What effect does the audience have?), whereas a movie, as a finished product, is understood to be the best version of itself. A movie's failure is not dynamic or interactive.

I had a nice day yesterday. I woke up around 6:30 (why do I wake up early on the weekends when it's so hard to get up on the weekdays?), cleaned the bathroom and ate a big breakfast, then got coffee with my friend Kate at Ula, where we saw a tall, almost "modelesque" guy walk in wearing a red onesie with penguins on it. He seemed cold, but impervious.

Then I got my hair trimmed at Biyoshi. On my way there I was semi-accosted by some (drunk?) Allston guys. Went something like this:

D-Bag #1: Where'd you get that iced coffee?
Me: JP.
D-Bag #1: Where?
Me: Jamaica Plain!
D-Bag #1: (something unintelligible)
Me: What?
D-Bag #1: (louder) What, you don't like techno?
Me: o_O

Then Douchebag #2 runs over and gets right up in my personal space, so close I think he's going to kiss me. But instead he just sort of fillibusts, like he's trying to keep me interested while he works out a plan. I tell him I'm going to be late for a hair appointment, and he asks me, "Color or trim?" He says I can be late for a trim. Then a minivan pulls up and his crew all starts piling in and a girl calls out to him, "Brett, honey, we gotta go!" He looks disappointed that the tension he's managed to fabricate won't come to a resolution. Was his motivation solely to impress himself upon me, random passerby, to force a stranger to remember him if only for a few hours? The pathological egotism of the douchebag. The fear of disappearance of the douchebag.

After my haircut John and I walked over to the Sam Adams Brewery and took the free tour. Then I made risotto. Then we went to a show at Johnny D's, part of Music Hack Day. It was a good show. First up was Faces on Film, and their set was very pretty and atmospheric. Next was Bodega Girls, who would make a good wedding band. Their enthusiasm was hilariously out of proportion to that of the audience. This one dude on a laptop kept taking off more and more layers. Last was El-P, a pretty awesome experimental hip-hop/rapper dude + friends. An excellent live music experience all in all, especially since we got to sit down the whole time, with table service from an incompetent but adorable waitress.

Tonight we saved a stray kitty. It was so little and scared, and we had to kind of corner it (sorry, I don't know how to sex kittens) by this dumpster where it was foraging for food, then we carried the poor little guy (/girl) to the shelter. About halfway there it tried to leap out of John's arms and then puked on his sleeve, but he was brave and stalwart and didn't drop it. Kitty! You should all go to the MSPCA and adopt it. A little black & white kitty. Why are kittens cuter than babies? Evolution-wise, it seems unsound.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

More problems with MFA rankings: Debt builds character

Since my last post on MFA rankings got a bit of attention (it's currently my #2 most viewed post after "Things I Can Tell About Your Taste in Music from Your Tattoo"), I feel almost obligated to respond to this article by Sandra Beasley in Poems Out Loud: "Mistakes We Knew We Were Making: Life Outside the Poets and Writers 'Top 50 MFA Programs.'"

Let me preface this by saying that again, my response isn't personal. I have met Sandra Beasley on more than one occasion and she's exceedingly lovely. But I do disagree with the article's argument. And here's why: It's written from the (biased) perspective of someone who already has an MFA. And it tips me off to a sixth reason why people don't like MFA rankings: they feel defensive and protective of their own experience. They applied to and chose their program (or, if they were like many people I have met, only "chose" a program by virtue of its being the only one that accepted them*) without the benefit of rankings, so why can't others do the same? I'm sorry to say it, but this smacks to me of old-fogeyism: When I wanted a fire I had to chop the wood myself! You kids today don't appreciate the value of a hard day's work, etc. If we did it that way in the past, by God we can keep doing it that way.

Sandra makes the argument (at least, I think she does; it's constructed as an ironic list, whereby she pretends, e.g., to advise readers to accept nothing less than full funding and then reveals that she in fact does not agree with this advice; in all honesty it took me a minute to realize this because the advice is far from obviously facile) that having to pay for your MFA might be positive. She chose a program "that required cobbling together a full-time job, fellowship pay for editing [the] literary journal, and over $20,000 of loans"; she seems to suggest that this experience built character.

I realize that the majority of people who would even consider attending an MFA program are at an economic advantage; they may be people who have no college debt, people who have never even had a job. For such candidates I suppose that having to cobble together funds and accrue tens of thousands of dollars of debt might build character. But can we try to look at this issue from the perspective of an "aspiring" writer who falls in the minority? Who may not have the money to pay out of pocket, who may already be in some degree of debt (from college or otherwise), who is quite familiar with the experience of working for a living, and may have found that despite all the character and experience this offers, they don't have the time they want or need to devote to writing? And their reason for pursuing an MFA is the desire to take a two-year sabbatical from all that and just write? And maybe they have the foresight to avoid more debt if possible? Wouldn't it be nice if someone in that position could find accurate information on how much funding each program offers? Or would you still tell that person, Don't worry about funding--just "follow your heart, or your whim"?

The article ends like this (again, this is intended ironically):
Don’t, whatever you do, run the risk of failure. This is why we have rankings and how-tos, right? To buffer. To plan.

Otherwise, just imagine what could happen.

You could end up ... here.
I may be misreading this (am I?), but to me this kind of says, "Follow your heart, risk failure, and you'll end up like me, a successful writer with two prize-winning books of poetry and a forthcoming memoir." I think Sandra absolutely deserves this success ... but most MFA graduates won't attain it. And those who go into debt to not attain it may be more bitter.

I'm happy for the writers who have followed their whims and gone on to have a positive MFA experience. But with or without rankings, some people end up at the right program and some people end up at the wrong program. There's no way to fix it so everyone ends up with the right kitten. Rankings won't do it, but neither will obfuscating and withholding information.

*Data on acceptance rates might reduce this phenomenon, whereby writers are forced to "choose" the one program that admits them, or are accepted nowhere at all. If you plan to apply to five programs and realize they all have acceptance rates of less than 1%, you might rethink your strategy and apply to a lot more programs and/or apply to a "safety school."

Item!

  • Actually, Lauren Bans, they only kiss in "the basement" (the boiler room) in one episode, though they kiss in his car and her kitchen in others, and it's Angela, not Jordan, who says "Your cuticles look like little moons."
  • The always fair, insightful and eloquent Martin Seay has started a blog.
  • I'm reading Corinna A-Maying the Apocalypse by Darcie Dennigan. I learned from the intro I'd been mispronouncing the title in my head.
  • I want to contribute to Reb's Best Poetry Books of 2009 thing, but there are so many books from 2009 that I haven't read yet, many of which I suspect are among "the best," and I'd feel like a shit for leaving them off. Some of my favorites of the ones I've read are those I'm reviewed or mentioned on this blog: Maggie Nelson's Bluets, Chris Nealon's Plummet, Poemland by Chelsey Minnis.
  • I've been obsessing about blurbs, which feels unspeakably lame. There, I spoke it.
  • I dreamt that I realized soymilk was the cause of all my health problems, and that I ate a hamburger. Why is my mind/brain duality suddenly crying out for cow-derived products?
  • A Serious Man was seriously boring and pointless. Haven't there already been like 15 movies about how bad things happen to mediocre people? The largely glowing reviews baffle me. I guess the Coen Brothers have reached the point of unassailability, if they hadn't already. I have the feeling that critics fear admitting boredom lest readers suspect they just "didn't get it" or prefer shoot-'em-ups. But look, people, there are objectively "boring" movies that are still good. Like Barry Lyndon. I don't care if they "subvert the audience's expectations" (which they obviously don't anymore), tedium and lack of closure for their own sake do not good cinema make.
  • Just one of the great things about turning 30: More inexplicable bad moods!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Some nice things

Erwin Ponce wrote a very nice review of Don't ever stay the same; keep changing, up now on the Black Ocean blog. He calls one line "playful and profound," which is nice because playful profundity is pretty much our MO.

Also, Kathy and I have some joke poems (from a series of prose poems structured like jokes) in the new issue of Opium. I don't have my copy yet but I bet it's real nice and I'm looking forward to its arrival.

Finally, John and I are reading in the Inescapable Rhythms series tomorrow night. On the slim chance that you happen to live in Hartford, swing by Real Art Ways around 7. Thanks to Andrea Henchey for being nice enough to invite us.

Thanks be to the world for its niceness. I'm in a bad mood tonight, but not for lack of niceties in the vicinity.

Monday, November 9, 2009

"I also think most that read Harper’s are too educated for their own good and can look down on everyone on both sides of an issue at the same time"

Usually with the stuff in Harper's Readings section, I know what I'm supposed to think. Usually, as I've noted before, it's something like, "The banality of human suffering: How droll" (e.g., the confessions of some warlord or a Frederick Seidel poem). But in the Nov. issue there's a bit that I don't really know what I'm supposed to think about. (Don't tell me it's an open text and I'm not supposed to think anything! Kool-Aid drinker.)

It's an excerpt from a transcript in which a member of the Followers of Christ church (Worthington) is tried for manslaughter after he neglects to take his baby daughter to the doctor for pneumonia and an infection "that could have been cured with antibiotics." (That's the first hint that I'm supposed to think something.) I assume we're supposed to point and laugh at the religious nut, but the thing is, he kind of makes more sense than the prosecutor (Horner):
WORTHINGTON: I would probably never use modern medicine myself. I've never felt that I've needed it. It wasn't because somebody forced this on me. It's because I've seen for myself, as I was growing up. When I was anointed, I felt better, so that trained me to have faith in it.
HORNER: Has your position changed as a result of what happened to your daughter?
WORTHINGTON: No, it's still the same.
HORNER: So the fact that you did not get your daughter to a hospital Saturday night, and she died a day later, has not changed your position on modern medicine?
WORTHINGTON: Well, it hasn't changed the way I feel. I've seen nothing here that's proved to me that it would have been any different had we taken her in. When a doctor can't do nothing for you, you usually put it in God's hands anyways, so that's where I'd had it the whole time. [Emphases mine]
HORNER: Even in retrospect, even knowing the outcome, you wouldn't change how you handled her medical condition?
He continues to basically berate the guy (which, I realize, is what prosecutors do), incredulously asking for clarification, when the guy's position is clear. I hate when people act confused to make a point. I mean, I'm an atheist, and I think religions that reject any and all medical intervention are stupid, of course, but the guy's position is remarkably consistent and lucid, compared to most nutjob Christians.

I think the part above in boldface is rather brilliant. Worthington essentially calls bullshit on Horner's hindsight fallacy (i.e., since you know the outcome now, obviously you should have acted differently) and simultaneously points out the hypocrisy of most pseudo-Christians who rely on doctors first and then only pray to God as a last resort. (I think he even implies that "anoint[ing] someone with olive oil" and a fair amount of "modern medicine" work on the same principle: faith, AKA the placebo effect.)

My question is, do the Harper's editors see this? Do most of their readers? Or are they mostly just snickering and shaking their heads at the backwoods dude who killed his baby?

P.S. I in no way advocate withholding antibiotics from infected babies. Also, I knock Harper's, but it is pretty much my favorite magazine. After Lucky. The other night I said to John, "I love reading Lucky. It's a pure experience." Meaning that I do it purely for pleasure, not because I feel like I should (which is true for at least half of what I read). And he nodded and said, "Yes, unsullied by crass commercialism." Ha ha! Lucky comes with little sticker tabs so you can mark all the shit you want to buy. AWESOME.

P.P.S. Someday I'm going to count up all the incidences of the word "wildly" in an issue of Lucky (as in, "wildly sensuous" or "wildly affordable"). It will be staggering.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Lauren Bans is my rival

My first exposure to the writer known as Lauren Bans was on This Recording, a culture blog I discovered when they sorta-reviewed my chapbook several years ago. They called the cover "cute as a button" and me "alluring" or some shit and now, natch, I love them. I think I would love them anyway, since they read and support indie lit and have good taste in music and hate on popular movies and post a lot of gratuitous pics of half-naked celebrities. They also have an undeniable bias toward writers with attractive headshots.

Lauren Bans wrote a review of 500 Days of Summer that I found to be dead on (despite not having bothered to see the movie). I shared it in my GOOG Reader and it partially inspired my post on pseudo-intellectual cliches. I can't remember what happened next; I think probably I followed her on Twitter and subsequently discovered that she also writes for the Double X blog.

Further readings have revealed that Lauren Bans' sense of humor and general writing style/tone (snarky yet essentially good-natured) are altogether too similar to mine for me to merely admire her. So, I have decided, she must be my rival. Take this response to the BoingBoing video on the reclamation of the word "douchebag." So many of my hallmarks are here: an admittance that a Venn diagram is in order coupled with a refusal to supply one; an overly finicky focus on semantics; an interest specifically in the semantics of the word "douchebag."

I mean, seriously, I could have written this. In fact someone sent me that video a day or two before I read the article and I remember having a similar reaction. Then, a couple of days after that, my ex sent me a link to the post and was like, Whoa: Venn diagrams and douchebags? And I was like, I KNOW. Then he said her Facebook pic looks like ScarJo.

ScarJo is my nemesis. Lauren Bans is my rival.

I think Heather Christle might also kind of be my rival. Usually when I read her poems, I think at least one line sounds like something I might have written, plus the same people seem to tend to like us. But she is more "famous" than me. She gets a whole week at HTML Giant. I don't think James Joyce and David Foster Wallace even got weeks. Hence! A mighty rivalry! It's problematic, though, because, aside from the fact that I think she's a good poet, she seems like a total sweetheart. The system is breaking down.

Maybe one day we can all have lunch or something.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Why people don't like MFA program rankings

Just as frequently as people complain about the methodology behind rankings of creative writing MFA programs, they complain about the very idea of such rankings. They claim that MFA rankings are inherently ridiculous, flawed in concept. I'm trying to figure out where this stance comes from, because it seems silly to me. I mean, if you don't get anything out of MFA rankings, you don't have to consult them. But why argue that they shouldn't exist at all?

Some possible reasons for believing that MFA rankings are bad and wrong:
  1. You have an MFA or are otherwise associated with an MFA program (e.g., are employed by one) and you're worried your program won't rank well. I suppose this is a legitimate concern. If your MFA program wasn't previously ranked and now it's showing up dead last or at #72 on some supposedly definitive list, your degree is worth less in the eyes of the world. This is certainly true of me. I went to Emerson and Emerson isn't going to be on anyone's top 10 list. But I don't really give a fuck because I don't structure my life such that anything significant depends on the value of my graduate degree. I'm not trading on it for publications, academic jobs, etc. I'm not saying I'm better than you if your life does depend on the value of your degree, but perhaps it means I can be more rational about a ranking system than you.

    Of course, no one who's claiming to be anti-rankings on principle is admitting this as the reason.

  2. MFA programs aren't like other graduate degree programs. Choosing one is like adopting a kitten. You just have to follow your heart and pick the one that feels most special to you! Ranking MFA programs is like ranking kittens. You can't rank kittens!!! (Or eat them.)

    I think some people actually believe this -- that creative writing programs can't be measured or compared quantitatively because writing is art and art's not quantitative. Basically, these people are confused. MFA programs can be compared along the same data points as other degree programs: cost, availability of funding, acceptance rate, average class size, etc. This information isn't any less factual because the classes are "about" art.

  3. Closely related to #2: Accepting rankings means admitting that MFA programs are like other degree programs, which feels cheapening. It brings your MFA experience down to the cold, calculating level of douchebags going for an MBA. This is art. It's not a business. It's not about money, etc.

  4. You just hate Seth Abramson. Which is your right, by God, but don't try to rationalize your hatred by arguing that everything he does is morally bankrupt and/or maddeningly broken in concept. Instead of going around leaving comments about how you can't rank kittens, just say "Seth Abramson is such a tool LOL" or your variation of choice.

  5. Because your friends don't like them. There definitely seems to be some social bandwagoning going on here and it's very Mac vs. PC. Being anti-rankings or at least anti-Seth's rankings is what all the cool kids are doing. I like the cool kids (by which I mostly mean HTMLGiant; not being sarcastic, I really do love HTMLGiant) so I hope they don't stop liking me just because I don't see what the big flipping deal about rankings is.
I can't think of any more. Input?

BTW I've never met Seth Abramson and I don't follow his poetry so I'm not "defending" him (get it) on personal or poetry-buddy grounds.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Stupid misconceptions about vegetarianism

Someone whose opinions I otherwise respect wrote the following on Twitter last week, in response to Natalie Portman's appearance on Top Chef: "I don't think you can be a 'foodie'/'adventurous eater' if you're a vegetarian."

This is what I call a stupid misconception about vegetarianism. A "foodie" is just someone who is into food. They like eating it, cooking it, reading about it, etc. There is no logical reason that a vegetarian can't be into food.

There is also no reason a vegetarian can't be an adventurous eater. Being a finicky eater and being vegetarian are two totally different things. Vegetarians don't forgo meat because they're picky; they're taking an ethical stance. Most "adventurous" meat eaters probably don't eat kitten meat and human flesh; they're capable of drawing the line somewhere.

Anyway I realized it's been a while since I did a "things you should eat" post, so here are a couple of recipes for you. They are easy, so be adventurous -- put down your hot dog and give them a try!

Coconut-Peanut Sauce
ginger
garlic
peanut butter
a lime
soy sauce
sriracha
brown sugar
coconut milk (low-fat is fine)
Throw a knob of peeled fresh ginger and one or two cloves of garlic into a food processor and chop them up pretty fine. Add a big glob of peanut butter (like 1/3 of a cup or so), the juice of a lime, a splash of soy sauce, a squirt of sriracha, a couple of tablespoons of brown sugar (or to taste), and a dash of salt. Pulse that a bit to get it mixed together. Then thin it out with some coconut milk. You won't need the whole can, probably just 1/4 to 1/2 a cup. Get it all whirred together, taste and adjust as necessary so it's the consistency you want and has a good flavor balance: a little sweet, a little tangy, a little spicy.

I do one of two things with this: Eat it cold tossed with noodles (preferably fresh), tofu cubes, shredded carrot, thinly sliced red pepper and cucumber, and cilantro, or pour it over stir-friend tofu and veggies until it's warmed through and serve over rice. It's like dessert for dinner!

Migas, Adam Gabbert Style

Migas is an egg dish that's very popular in Austin. I don't know if it originated there or what. El Paso is the Mexican food capital of the world but I never had migas until I moved to east Texas. This is good for brunch or a quick dinner. Serve with beans and flour tortillas if you're not trying to eat less gluten.
Peanut oil (for frying)
4 (or so) corn tortillas
1 smallish white or yellow onion, chopped
1 medium-sized tomato, seeded if it's very juicy, chopped
1 fresh jalapeño, chopped
Butter (for sauteeing)
4 eggs, beaten with some salt and a splash of milk or half & half
1/3 cup or so shredded cheddar or jack cheese
If you're not fry-phobic, heat a couple of inches of peanut oil in a pan. Slice the corn tortillas into 1/2-inch strips. Fry them in batches until golden and crispy (a few minutes), then drain on paper towels and salt while they're hot. If this sounds terrible, you can use crushed up packaged tortilla chips. Just remember, fear is the mindkiller.

Melt a pat of butter in a large nonstick frying pan (or skillet, if you prefer) and sautee the onion over medium heat until it's softened but not brown. Add the tomato and jalapeño and a little salt and sautee a little longer, until it's starting to look kind of saucy and yummy. Lower the heat a little and add a bit more butter if the pan looks dry (or hit it with some cooking spray) and then pour in the eggs.

At this point you're basically just scrambling the eggs: drag a spatula back and forth across the pan, fold them around, etc. You don't want them to cook too quickly. Only unadventurous scumbags like overcooked eggs. When they're 75-80% done, throw in the fried tortilla strips and cheese and keep stirring until it's all incorporated and the cheese is melted and the eggs are done but still a bit soft. Alternatively, you can sprinkle the cheese on at the end for a melty top layer. Serve with salsa if you want, but the salsa's kind of already in there.

While you eat this, think fond thoughts of Texas, but if you've never been there, don't assume Austin's the only place in the state worth seeing. I'm so sick of Northerners hearing I'm from Texas and saying, "Oh yeah? I hear Austin's cool." There's more to Texas than 6th street, you uninformed dillholes.