Friday, December 31, 2010

That's so '00s!

What are the cultural cliches of the 2000s? I don't know if it's the fact that we only just emerged from them or what, but the last decade seemed so much less distinctive than the '80s or '90s. What characterizes the '00s style, if the '80s were all about big hair and bright, flashy excess, and the '90s were dark and droopy and gloomy (grunge and brown lipstick)? I think the decade was defined by 9/11, but what were the ramifications of that, aside from fear and jingoism?

I've taken a stab at forming a list of phenomena we'll look back at as "so '00s":
  • Douchebag comedies (Wedding Crashers, Knocked Up, The Hangover, etc.)
  • Recessionomics
  • Climate change
  • "Hope"
  • Hipsterism/Anti-hipsterism (Williamsburg was our Haight-Ashbury)
  • iPods
  • Folky-twee indie rock
  • Spray tans
  • Fruity florals
  • MySpace
  • Chipotle
  • Mojitos
  • Food trucks
  • Grandpa/shawl-collar/belted cardigans and ugly-chic in general
  • Knitting
  • Competition-based reality shows
  • "Good TV"
  • Lord of the Rings
  • "Fail"
  • "I'm all set"
What else?

I just made a big bowl of Texas caviar, which is like a salad or dip made with black-eyed peas, diced onions and peppers and cilantro in a vinaigrette. Luckily, I really like black-eyed peas. Are there other foods that people eat on Jan. 1 for luck? In El Paso we always ate tamales.

Happy new year!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Recent acquisitions

I asked for three perfumes for Christmas (Teo Cabanel Alahine, Ormonde Jayne Woman, and Sonoma Scent Studio Voile de Violette), thinking I'd get one, maybe two, but probably just one, since one is only available in the UK and SSS has been temporarily closed for a while, as its mastermind, Laurie Erickson, nurses a wrist injury. In fact, my smart cookie of a mom managed to get me all three; she discovered The Perfumed Court and ordered large decants of both Alahine and OJW, and she wrote to Laurie requesting a favor, so I have a full bottle of the VdV extrait, small but mighty. She (my mother, not Laurie) also found a body scrub from a spa in Arizona that contains creosote! It doesn't smell exactly like rain in the desert, but it definitely smells like the desert. My pre-Christmas gift from John was a bottle of Bulgari Black, which we will be sharing. I gave my grandmother a jar of White Linen body cream (I couldn't find the lotion in the glass pump bottle; did they stop making it?) and my brother a roll-on of MCMC Hunter oil. And since I've been self-gifting all year, this didn't seem like the season to stop: I bought myself a bottle of A*Men Pure Malt at the duty-free shop in Dallas during my three-hour layover, bringing the number of patchouli gourmands I own up to silly.

Anybody else get or give the fifth sense?

The most depressing time of the year

  • Don't you hate the week or so following Christmas? The going back to work and having to take down your sad-ass decorations, the finding out your health insurance costs have gone up, etc. It seems like it always snows a lot while I'm in Texas, so I miss the first prettiness and just get the disgusting aftermath.
  • Men are really polite in El Paso. They say "sir" and "ma'am" sincerely. They also stare at me in a way that no one does up here. I guess I pass for exotic in Texas. At my brother's wedding, all the Austinites said I looked like a Boston native. When did that happen?
  • Things I did in El Paso: Went on gasping, tearful runs (so sunny and dusty and altitudinous), ate lots of tacos, hung out with high school friends, watched Eclipse and old House episodes with my mom, found out my real bra size. I also dabbled in meat eating, since I'd been thinking about it for a while and it was there for the taking. Specifically I ate some of the green beans with bacon that my cousin's wife brought for Christmas dinner, and after Christmas my mom made this Cajun dish I used to love, basically red beans and rice but with white beans, using the ham bone, and I ate that too. Observations: Meat doesn't taste any different than it ever did, not more or less delicious, but I still can't imagine eating a big hunk of it in isolation. I still don't want to buy it. I don't know when I'll eat it again. It didn't make me sick, which was my main worry.
  • Don't hump my leg and tell me it's an earthquake. Is that a saying? It should be.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Mystique of the Desert

  • I really like Liz Hildreth's blog. Today she wrote about sex and smell. That's a double whammy right there.
  • A lot of the street names around where I grew up would make good names for people. For example: Doniphan (which, I believe, is a Blvd.). It's close to Donovan, which is already tres sexy, but with a twist, plus the visual resemblance to Daphne would make it a good name for a woman too.
  • I always thought it would be cool if my middle name started with an O, because then my monogram could be EGO, you know, with the big G in the middle. Except there aren't really any good names that start with O, are there? I've never liked Olivia (sorry, Olivias of the world, I once had a math teacher named Olivia with a bad haircut). I'd have to make something up: O'Fallon? Onyx? I'd gladly trade out my real middle name; I like "Ann" as a first name but not a middle name, it's so dull and pronounceable compared to the rest of my moniker.
  • What is it with the people who work at the gate always saying in threatening tones that the flight is very full? First of all, there's a finite number of available seats. The flight is either full or it's not. It's not like they ever start packing people into the aisles. Secondly, it's full almost every time I fly. Why do they always act like it's a rare disaster and somehow our fault?
  • This morning I found my old bottle of Egoiste "Cologne Concentree" in my childhood dresser. OMG! I feel like I won a prize, I had no idea this still existed. There is only about 8-10 ml left, sadly. It's easily 15 years old, and still smells fantastabulous. Don't throw away your old perfume people! It's not as fragile as it looks. Send it to me.

Monday, December 20, 2010

I get emotive on planes

  • What exactly is the criterion for making it into the Criterion Collection? (Apparently there's only one.) We watched The Night of the Hunter last night, the only film actor Charles Laughton ever directed. This isn't really surprising because, aside from one awesome sequence in which two children float down a river in a skiff under the starlight, with impassive fauna looking on from the banks, it's pure amateur hour. It meets my youth & malice criterion, but not my "worth two hours of my life" criterion.

  • I promised I'd remind you to vote for The French Exit in the Goodreads Choice Awards. How can you say no to this face?

    The French Exit
  • I'm flying to Texas tomorrow. I don't know about you, but I always feel sad on planes. Once I cried during a Cameron Diaz movie. Aside from any trashy magazines I buy at the airport, I'll be reading Indecision.

  • There's a radio station in Boston with the call letters WODS. When they say it on the air it sounds like "Odious."
  • Friday, December 17, 2010

    Do women know how attractive they are?

    Conversation in a bar tonight among one man and two women: Do women know how attractive they are? The man argued no, both women (one of them being me, natch) said yes, they absolutely do, but are conditioned to pretend they don't. I've mentioned before how taken aback I was when my friend Jessica identified herself publicly as "beautiful." It wasn't that I was surprised she knew it, just that she was willing to say it. (I suppose the game of pretending not to know is applicable to both genders. Actors, in interviews, always pretend they don't know they're gorgeous.)

    Eventually I conceded that no one really knows how attractive they are objectively. I'd define "objectively" "thusly": Ask a large number of people to rank a head-on face shot on a scale of 1 to 10, then take the average. (I know relevant studies use similar methodology.) But what's more important is knowing how attractive you are in context, in the contexts that matter. For example, I don't think I'm particularly attractive to douchebags, but I do pretty well with the type of men I'd tend be interested in, and occasionally well with the type of men I'm only interested in physically. Basically, I feel confident in contexts where I know I can be myself, and everyone knows confidence is attractive, especially if you're in the 70% percentile anyway.

    Other topics included: If you could be more rational or more emotional, which would you choose? I chose more rational, even though some people probably think I'm already too rational (is that possible?), but only on the condition that it's not zero-sum, i.e., I don't have to get less emotional to do so.

    Incidentally, while searching for links for this post, I got all wistful re-reading this one; I haven't had a day that eventful in some time.

    Tuesday, December 14, 2010

    Mess with Texas and I'll Mess with Your Face

    When asked what they think "Don't Mess with Texas" means, people I meet "up north" generally translate it into something along the lines of: "Texans are haahhd, so don't fuck with us, or we will mess you up." AKA, I'm talkin' about steppin' off.

    They're usually shocked when I tell them it comes from an anti-litter campaign. I even saw someone with a shirt that said "Let's Mess with Texas!" It's true: northern hipsters have started a pro-littering campaign.

    Why would you want to make this Indian cry?

    Sunday, December 12, 2010

    Prepare for OMS burn

    After all this talk of Lea Thompson, I had an uncontrollable urge to watch SpaceCamp. It's widely agreed to be a terrible movie, so why do I like it so much? What's the problem exactly, that it's implausible? Well, duh. It's essentially science fiction; the entire plot hinges on Jinx, the talking robot who wants to be Max's friend (Max being played by a young Joaquin Phoenix, then known as Leaf). Aside from that you can basically go along with it, assuming you don't know too much about space travel. I didn't remember that Scott Coffey has a small part in this; he's also in Some Kind of Wonderful. (And have you all seen Shag? Not a proper '80s movie, since it takes place in the '60s, but it was my favorite movie for a while in jr. high.)

    Also, there's a scene that has Thompson saying a line she will later repeat exactly in SKOW: "We were just talking." The circumstances were exactly the same too, she got caught breaking the rules (in one case skipping gym class, in the other being out after camp curfew) with a studmuffin, and then has to answer to a curly-haired female superior. I wonder if Hughes unconsciously plagiarized the line from SpaceCamp? Or if Thompson ad-libbed it in in SKOW? It got me thinking about movie lines as memes--like I swear the line "First rule is, there are no rules" has been in at least five or six movies. ("You mess with the bull, you get the horns" is in two Hughes movies, but I don't know if that counts since it's just a thing people say anyway, though I'd never heard it before I saw it in The Breakfast Club.) What other lines appeared in multiple '80s movies?

    Speaking of '80s cliches: I recently saw Wall Street for the first time, and was surprised how lousy it is, when you get right down to it. I think they spent about five minutes doing research on how Wall Street works. What's amazing is that it's so full of '80s cliches, it's hard to believe it was actually made in the '80s, as opposed to by people who heard about the '80s second-hand and then tried to cram in every reference for good measure. I'd rather watch The Secret of My Success any day (the soundtrack of which contains that ultimate '80s movie soundtrack cliche, "Oh Yeah" by Yello).

    Thursday, December 9, 2010

    Why names?

    Sometimes it seems weird that we have names, like, separate from words. I mean, some names are also words (e.g., Summer or April) (which are also times). But some names are just names, like Shania (don't tell me that means something, because I don't care). So who came up with this crap? Like why don't we follow the Dances with Wolves model? Who decided "Dwight" is a good thing to call someone?

    I mean, man. Stuff is weird.

    Sunday, December 5, 2010

    Black Swan, holy crap. What a weird movie. I think it marks the birth of a new genre: Eczema Horror. Or maybe Eczemacore.

    Anybody seen it yet? I need to talk to someone about this movie. Or join a support group.

    Saturday, December 4, 2010

    Some Notes on Flirtation

    • Flirtation works best between two available parties or two unavailable ones, not mixed company.
    • The "neg" is overrated, and arguably can't even be classed as flirtation. Apparent indifference is more effective than outright insults. Apparent indifference followed by an unexpected compliment is highly effective.
    • Negs made in jest, however -- self-aware negs? negative negs? -- are fair game.
    • Homosexual men are often excellent at flirting with women, proving that the pleasure of flirtation is not based in potential for sex.
    • When you're accustomed to harmless flirtation, it's easy to forget that flirtation can be harmful.
    • It is possible to skip flirtation altogether and simply begin dating. However, for some it is nearly impossible to evaluate compatibility and attraction in the absence of preliminary flirtation, and this is one of the major flaws of the Internet dating model.
    • The problem with ambiguous messages is that innocent bystanders may think the message is intended for them, and vice versa: the person for whom the message is intended may assume it's directed elsewhere. Of course, this is also a benefit.

    Friday, December 3, 2010

    A passage from In the Cut, as requested

    Here's a passage I found amusing, which contains no spoilers:
    The waitress brought the food. Mr. Reilly's dinner looked delicious. It really was Thanksgiving on a roll. I don't know why I doubted it would be -- two slices of white bread piled with stuffing, cranberry sauce, candied yams and gravy topped with a breast of turkey and two wings. I didn't want to watch him eat it. I'd once eaten crabs with him at a restaurant at the South Street Seaport and I haven't eaten crabs since. I don't begrudge erotic pleasure, whatever its source. I don't even begrudge Reilly his crunching and chewing and slicing and gnawing, but I didn't want to watch it.

    "I'm booking, man," Cornelius said abruptly. Before I could say anything, he was in the street.

    Reilly frowned at me, wiping his hands delicately on his napkin. "Never a good idea," he said.

    "What's that?" I asked, knowing very well what he was going to say.

    "Mingling," he said. "It makes a mess of things." He picked up a wing of the turkey and sucked the joint.

    "Oh," I said, furious. "That argument. Too bad there isn't a Kentucky Fried Chicken nearby."

    "There is," he said, lifting a tiny stem of a cranberry from the rim of his platter and flicking it to the table. "On Fourteenth Street."

    "Would you like to try some of my meatloaf?" Pauline asked him. He would.

    No wonder she ends up with marks on her ass from the sink, I thought. I ate the tuna fish sandwich that was so conventional that I began to feel sorry for it, so sorry for it that I ate it all, even eating what one of my students calls the garnage. We divided the check evenly and Reilly and Pauline made a date to go to the new restaurant in Chelsea where the waiters wear gaucho chaps and hats with dangling felt balls.

    We left Mr. Reilly at his car and Pauline walked with me as far as Waverly Place, where we kissed goodbye.

    As I walked home, I thought about the new poem in the Number Four subway. I have become so paranoid in the last month that I believe that the Poetry in Motion placards are messages for me. Not in a metaphorical sense, but literally selected for me by someone who has managed to gain influence over the Transit Authority Selection Committee. The new poem is a tanka by Akiko Yosano. "Now/Thinking back/On the course of my passion,/I was like one blind,/Unafraid of the dark." For me, right?

    Lead sling bullets with a winged thunderbolt

    • Um, so, somehow my book is among the nominees for the GoodReads' Choice Awards in the Poetry category. Seems weird -- suspicious, even! -- but if you're on GoodReads, you could vote for me! Theoretically.
    • I can be kind of an aggressive jerk, sure. That doesn't mean being an aggressive jerk is a good way to flirt with me. Not that flirting with me well would get one anywhere, given my "relationship status," but I mean, geez. Some people can't even go through the motions correctly. You know?

    Wednesday, December 1, 2010

    One more variation on the whale joke

    A whale and a muffin are in the oven. The muffin turns to the whale and says, "It's getting hot in here!" The whale looks at the muffin and goes, "You can talk?"

    And another thing ...

    Just yesterday I read an interview with a literary agent who was asked to name her favorite book; she said she couldn't name just one but her "favorite classic" is The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Look, people, that book was written in 1984. If you're going to bother creating separate categories for "classics" and contemporary books, shouldn't classics be older than, I don't know, me? Today I saw the same thing, coming from Amber Tamblyn, the actress-poet I love to hate (via the PoFo):
    I always recommend one classic and one modern poet. For classics, I would go with John Ashbery or Anne Sexton – read the greats and see why they’re considered greats. In terms of contemporary writers, there’s Jeffrey McDaniel – who is my favorite living contemporary writer.
    Ashbery is a living contemporary writer! Jesus!

    Also, she's apparently "gearing up for 'Comedy Does Poetry … Does Comedy!,' a benefit for Bowery Arts & Sciences which will also include David Cross, Fred Armisen, Kristen Schaal and 'other respected writers.'" Way to rip off my idea.

    Sapphire bullets, bullets of pure love

    • My latest On the Scent column is up, on an auteur theory of perfume. Excerpt:
      The first lie may be more damaging on the whole to perfume’s reputation. Unlike the others, which simply wave the marketing wand to make the juice seem more valuable than it is, the first lie degrades a perfume’s status as art in several ways—first, by hiding the real “designers” behind the curtain. Fashion is taken more seriously as an art in part because designers are celebrated as singular artists. Perfumers, no matter how talented, work in secret, like ghost writers—imagine if celebrity memoirs were written by award-winning authors rather than nameless hacks. Secondly it makes perfumery look easy, since designers apparently need no specialized training to do it. And finally, by lumping perfume in with fashion, the industry has created the perception of perfume as outwardly directed, as decoration—a tool to improve how you smell to others, the way cosmetics are a tool to improve how you look. This attitude neglects the potential enjoyment for the wearer. You can’t see your own face with make-up on, but you can smell your own wrist.
      SOTD, BTW, is Miller Harris Geranium Bourbon.

    • There's something mesmerizing about side-scrolling video games. They're fun to watch, even just videos of games, where nothing is at stake. I used to love watching my brother play Nintendo. The current style, where your avatar can wander freely in a 3D-ish world, may be fun to play, but they're boring to watch, especially if you come in in medias res. You lose that simple visual indication of continual progress. Also, it seems like games don't have music anymore, just sound effects. Am I making this up?

    • I'm reading a book that was made into a movie (In the Cut). I haven't seen the movie, but it's difficult, anyway, not to picture the characters as the actors cast in those roles. This is aggravating. The main character really shouldn't look like Meg Ryan.

    • Do you always picture the events in fiction taking place in your own house? I do, even though my own place of residence rarely matches the setting in the book. On occasion I force myself to picture a different house, but it's almost always one in the real world. I don't, however, cast my friends in the roles of the characters.

    Monday, November 29, 2010

    Howard the Duck: The Soundtrack

    I always thought the fake songs by the fake band in Howard the Duck (one of the great terrible movies) were pretty good. Turns out they were written by pop-meister Thomas Dolby, better known as Dolby, of "She Blinded Me With Science." No wonder I like them. I'm thinking specifically of "Hunger City" (which I always heard as "Hunka City" as a kid, but that would be Memphis, not Cleve-Land) and "Don't Turn Away," not the mega-dorky theme song. The below aren't videos, unfortch, but you can listen to the tracks.

    "Don't Turn Away" has a moment that reminds me of "Wishing Well" by Terence Trent D'Arby, a very '80s sound that strikes me as somehow sour or maybe tangy. It's generally only unusual sensations that trigger my synaesthesia. What is that sound? Lots of flats?

    I didn't remember TTD dancing so much like Michael Jackson.

    In other news: I took a Vitamin B pill after lunch, which involved sweet potatoes, and it turned my urine NEON yellow. Apparently that's what happens when you ingest more vitamin B than your system can handle.

    Sunday, November 28, 2010

    A Short Story About Homing Pigeons

    Note: I promised someone I would blog about this a while ago. It's paraphrased from The Emperor of Scent by Chandler Burr.

    Nobody knows how homing pigeons work. They're still in use by some navies and still a mystery to us. It's been theorized that they just have an amazing sense of direction, but if you transport them in a dark container, spinning them all around and upside down in the process, then release them, they can still find their way home.

    Luca Turin became acquainted with a scientist who wondered if they are somehow "connected" to their home base by a kind of invisible string or band. He had an idea that you could test this theory by, instead of just moving the pigeons, moving their home. In his proposed experiment, you'd raise the pigeons on a ship, take them away, and then relocate the ship. Would the pigeons fly back to the ship, or back to the original port?

    Turin thought this was a fascinating experiment, and via his connections he managed to secure funding for it. But, to his great disappointment, the scientist declined.

    Was he afraid the results wouldn't be interesting?

    Open Letter to an Editor I Occasionally Have to Work With (Not at my Job)


    Wednesday, November 24, 2010

    The Inner Lives of Nerds

    I received a best-seller as a gift, and not just a best-seller but a sort of neo-fantasy novel (Lev Grossman's The Magicians). Not normally my thing but the gifter thought I would like it, and so far (15-20 pages in) I kind of do, probably due to the young-people angle that so obsesses me lately. The following sentence is basically attributable (via free indirect discourse!) to Quentin, a 17-year-old nerd:
    Unpretty women were so much easier to deal with in some ways -- you didn't have to face the pain of their probable unattainability.
    Attractive menfolk made me very uncomfortable when I was young and nerdy. I had the impression they were instantly sizing me up, attractiveness-wise, then dismissing me. I enjoy the presence of attractive men now, and no longer expect them to even notice me. However, I've always found brief interactions with attractive women to be pleasant.

    Another one:
    He would have to explain to his parents what happened, and they would, in some way he could never grasp, and therefore could never properly rebut, make him feel like it was his fault.
    Whether or not this book turns out to be readable/great, I credit it for getting the Teenage Insight right.

    Monday, November 22, 2010

    • Watching the documentary about The Magnetic Fields on Friday, I realized I still harbor childish fantasies of being famous. The main way I want/expect this to manifest: looking famous in photographs (which says more about the photographers you traffic with than you).
    • My favorite Magnetic Fields song is "I Don't Want to Get Over You." Runner-up: "All My Little Words."
    • I periodically become obsessed with the New Pornographers album Challengers. This is one of my favorite driving CDs ever. Every song is imminently sing-along-able. The title track gives me the chills.
    • Rearrange Us by Mates of State is also excellent for driving.
    • I don't understand people who can enjoy music without singing along.
    • What ever happened to Bright Eyes? To clarify: I don't miss him/them.

    Thursday, November 18, 2010

    Smell Questionnaire

    Via Glass Petal Smoke

    What are some of your strongest scent memories?
    Camping smells: tarps and tent canvas, pond water and fish bait, campfires, pine trees, damp earth. A scratch-n-sniff book I had based on The Secret of NIMH, especially the sunflower. The smell of the inside of the Ferrari my dad used to own, not just the leather but the "Connolly Hide Care" conditioner he treated it with.

    What are some of your favorite smells?

    Wood smoke, pipe tobacco, coffee beans, vanilla beans, coconut, almonds, caramel, leather, rum, limes, grapefruit, tuberose, geranium, patchouli, El Paso when it rains.

    Do you have any favorite smells that are considered strange?
    I love the smell of blown out candles, but I don't know if that's strange.

    Describe one or more of your favorite cooking smells.
    The smell of grilled, marinated meat (think steak fajitas) though I'm a vegetarian. Baking bread too, though I can't eat that either. Fresh herbs, especially basil, mint, and cilantro. Grilled onions. Basmati rice.

    What smells do you most dislike?
    Usual suspects: vomit, shit, foot fungus, etc. Also menudo and organ meats. Chinese markets. Canned fish. Dog food.

    What smell did you first dislike, but learned to love?
    I used to hate the smell of Earl Grey Tea (bergamot). I still prefer English Breakfast but I like bergamot now.

    What scents do you associate with memories of loved ones?
    Clinique products remind me of my grandmother's bathroom. The burnt metallic smell that old appliances give off reminds me of her kitchen.

    What fragrance(s) remind you of growing up?
    Crayons and Play-Doh. Fruit leather. Heavily chlorinated pools remind me of swimming lessons and make me anxious.

    What fragrance(s) remind you of the places you visited on vacation?
    Eucalyptus = California. Sulfur = Yellowstone?

    Sunday, November 14, 2010

    Have I mentioned I hate Sundays

    I had a lovely time in the greater Hadley area this weekend, but arrived home to find John in the throes of a nasty bout of food poisoning. (Note to patrons of neighborhood Indian joints: Don't order the duck special.) He seemed to be through the worst of it, but then, after downing some Gatorade, he vomited again and passed out on the bathroom floor. So we spent the rest of the day in the ER. While we were waiting in the triage area, a man and a woman were rolled in on gurneys; they'd clearly been in an accident. The woman was moaning, and the man kept saying, "Where's my wife? I want to talk to my wife." Someone finally responded "She's right over there, just talk, she can hear you," and he called out, "I'm sorry." Then they rolled the woman off into surgery, presumably, while the man continued to say, "Where's my wife? I want to be near my wife." He couldn't turn his head because of a brace around his neck. They finally rolled him away too. It seemed so much like a scene in a movie, a hospital scene, a horrific glimpse into the lives of strangers. It seemed so scripted, although the EMS guy was not a good actor. In a movie, however, it wouldn't have been sad, just horrific. As it is, it's one of the saddest things I've ever seen. I told Rebecca the other day that if I was an actor, and I ever needed to cry on cue, I'd picture one of those baby monkeys in a lab, clinging to a "mother" made of a wire frame and terry-cloth towels. Now I think I'd picture this. John was lying on one of those shitty hospital beds, nauseated and dehydrated beyond belief, and he started comforting me.

    Friday, November 12, 2010

    Bullets over Broadway

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010

    What We Talk About When We Talk About Bullets

    • I really wish people would stop using the "What We Talk About When We Talk About X" snowclone to title things. It's not clever! It's the (not-so-)new "Everything You Wanted to Know About X But Were Afraid to Ask."
    • Can I possibly keep this bullet thing going all week? Doubt it.
    • I made a pan of sweet potato enchiladas on Monday and I've been eating them all week. YUM. John is traveling but I'm trying to eat real meals anyway. The temptation to just eat breakfast again looms large.
    • Just tried another of the Lush scents, Lust. It smells just like their Flying Fox shower gel, i.e. jasmine + honey. I can see a lot of people hating this -- there really is something raunchy about it. I kind of love it.
    • So I got an electric toothbrush. Gum health and all that, you know. But I can't figure out how to use it! The first time I tried it, I put a little toothpaste on the head and then turned it on. Toothpaste goes flying. Now I'm sort of working the toothpaste around on my teeth first, then turning it on while it's in my mouth. It still makes a total fucking mess though. I have to keep pausing to spit, but if I don't turn it off each time, before taking it out of my mouth, watery toothpaste sprays everywhere. It'd be easier cleanup-wise to do this in the shower, but is that even safe? Also, after all this rigmarole, my teeth don't even seem clean. What the hell is going on?
    • On Lucky today: How to buy perfume.

    Tuesday, November 9, 2010

    Guns don't kill people, bullets do

    • Good mail day: I got my contributor copies of the new issue of Mantis, which looks really great. In addition to new poems and translations there's a section on poetry in the last decade, to which I contributed a brief essay, described variously by the editors, Bronwen Tate and Joshua Edwards, as a "personal story of isolation" and an "extol[ling] of the virtues of a Jurassic technology known as the 'blog.'" Everybody always says this but I actually am looking forward to reading the whole section (especially the pieces on the Gurlesque by Arielle Greenberg and on media by Tony Tost) and the rest of the stuff (a ton of work by Farrah Field, some translations by Francois Luong, a review of Kate Schapira's Town by Ana Bozicevic, etc.).
    • To qualify as a good mail day, you have to get at least two good things. The other thing was a very generous package of samples from Lush, which just launched a new perfume line. I'll review these at length at some point but I just dug into The Smell of Freedom, which does not smell patriotic, but rather spicy and woodsy and rather intriguing, and Imogen Rose, a sweet, musky, powdery rose.
    • I don't like the false dichotomy of irony/sincerity. 90% of people are ironic some of the time and sincere some of the time. I just opened to a random poem by Farrah Field in the aforementioned Mantis and sure enough there's some irony in it (first line: "A certain type of raw rubbing is associated with fun") and some sincerity (in the middle: "That motherly feeling came out of nowhere"; and toward the end: "experienced people know why it is that rust hole / formed on my car when I was driving home planning on / doing good, thinking about doing bad, thinking of the girls.") I think poems with a little irony in them feel more sincere to me, by which I mean, more real, more deeply thought and felt.
    • Second Lucky guest post is up, on cheap thrills.

    Monday, November 8, 2010

    Bullet holes the size of matzah balls

    • I'm reading a sci-fi book! I never do this. My mom would be proud. The book is Chocky, by John Wyndham (author of The Day of the Triffids, which is about killer sunflowers); it's about a kid who appears at first to have an imaginary friend, but the friend knows things the kid couldn't possibly know; even the parents begin to believe he is "possessed" by a being from another planet. It's both creepy and funny in the British style. Of course, I'm interested in it because it's an adult book about children, my current obsession.
    • There are certain genres, science fiction being one of them, I have never had any interest in, despite the rest of my family liking them. I was always bored out of my pants as a kid, and still am, by almost anything in the following genres (there are always exceptions): sci fi, fantasy, war, martial arts, western, action. Am I missing any? Also comic book adaptations. All of these genres are male-dominated, largely by, for, and about men. Exceptions often caught my interest; for example I love Gone with the Wind which is one of the few war movies that depicts the women's experience of war. It was only within the past year or two that I realized I'm biased against these genres because they're biased against me, and I no longer feel bad about it.
    • First-order self-righteousness is acting smug about not having a TV or not being on Facebook or not eating fast food. Second-order self-righteousness is acting smug about not acting smug about TV or Facebook or fast food (i.e., sneering at people who don't have a TV). I find second-order self-righteousness more obnoxious.
    • When a reading is really good it doesn't feel like a reading, it feels like a performance. My favorite performances this year were by Mairead Byrne and Mark Leidner.
    • The year is pretty much over, right?
    • I am guest blogging for Lucky all this week. About perfume of course! The first post is five of my top picks for fall.

    Wednesday, November 3, 2010

    What did you want to be when you grew up?

    When I was a kid people always told me I should be a writer but I didn't think of "writer" as a job (turns out it is, since that is in fact what I am). When asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said teacher for a while. In junior high that changed to architect. I was fascinated by houses and house plans. This interest was tightly coupled with a fantasy about living in a bigger house, I admit -- not that our house was small, but I aspired toward opulence at that age. I distinctly remember the day my mom told me that being an architect involved a lot of math. We were in her car, waiting in line at the bank. That didn't sound romantic and artistic to me and it killed the fantasy. Later, in high school, I wanted to be a psychiatrist, though I was on the fence about medical school (gross anatomy? gross). My dad pushed me off it. He's a doctor and wouldn't wish that fate on anyone.

    If I was truly passionate about either career path I guess I wouldn't have been dissuaded. But I wonder why I was so turned off by the idea of effort. I'm not even bad at math, or I wasn't, at least, when I had to do it all the time. Any real job is harder than the fantasy, right?

    Did you always want to be what you are?

    Friday, October 29, 2010

    The Adult Paradigm

    I've had a bad week. Some good things* happened, but I can't stop dwelling on the bad ones. I think having "bad weeks" might be part of the Adult Paradigm.

    The Adult Paradigm is something Allen came up with, but I think John has the best example. Once when he was 17 or 18, I think, he was in a restaurant with his dad and a friend/colleague of his dad's, and they bought him a beer. Before John had finished it, his dad and the friend stood up to go. John clearly hesitated, and the friend looked at him and said, meaningfully (at least in John's memory or my memory of the telling), You don't have to finish your drink. Boom, teenage mind blown, welcome to the Adult Paradigm.

    I've been trying to get Allen to do a guest blog about the Adult Paradigm, but he either doesn't remember what it is or I misunderstood what he meant by it. In my mind, it's a sudden shift to a different worldview, as palpable as suddenly getting a foot taller. In the Adult Paradigm, a dollar's worth of beer is not important. If you asked Allen he's probably say the Adult Paradigm is stuff like dropping abstract non sequiturs into conversation. (That's a bit more "adults in the movies" to me.)

    *E.g., I've got some new poems at Everyday Genius.

    Tuesday, October 26, 2010

    Things I have smelled lately

    All perfumes, people, nothing gross:
    • Love, Chloe: Smells exactly, photorealistically like honey at first, then turns into a bathroomy talc scent.
    • Miller Harris Geranium Bourbon: Gorgeous rich rose and geranium scent on a dark background. "Want."
    • Bond No. 9 Washington Square: Super boring guy scent. Next.
    • Bond No. 9 New Haarlem: This is supposed to smell like coffee, but instead I get bacon with maple syrup drizzled on top. Kind of hilarious.
    • Roberto Cavalli Oro: Like the above breakfast scent, this is by Maurice Roucel, whose perfumes always have a sense of humor or least a sense of trashy. Reminds me very much of eggnog (a smell I like).
    • Lolita Lempicka au Masculin: This is really good and only tenuously masculine. Strange how I hate the black licorice taste but like licorice notes in perfume. Mega-fugly bottle.
    • Acqua di Gioia: Only smelled this one on paper, but all I got was grapefruit. Disappointing, since I'd heard mojito.
    • Shalimar Ode a la Vanille: Only smelled this one on paper too, since it seemed to have a whopping dose of the dreaded woody amber. Why!
    • Paco Rabanne Lady Million and Gucci Guilty: Can't remember the difference. They were both way too sweet.
    • Ormonde Jayne Woman: Gorgeous mossy woods and amber. Want.
    • Natori: Sexy plummy musky thing. Kinda want.

    Monday, October 25, 2010

    New review of TFE

    I just read this really terrific review of The French Exit by Timothy Bradford in H_NGM_N. Awesome not only because he liked it, but because he really got what I was trying to do, feels like, in terms of language and tone and mechanics and everything. I also love that he talks about "Blogpoem@Sea" but refuses to give away the ending. Here's a couple of excerpts:
    While Gabbert’s poetry delves into linguistics and cognition and sometimes feels heavy with its self-awareness, it balances this tendency with a mix of physical violence, wry humor and edgy sexuality. Sometimes, as soon as you get your Lacan or Kant head on, the poem starts in on Marx Brothers with Mae West and Betty Paige ...

    The sexual double-entendre is thick here, from the description of the joke to the final two sentences, and why not? Humor, like sex, can be a release, a letting go of control, and humor and sex are excellent tools for underlining language’s limits. “Freudian slips on tennis court and cracks her coccyx,” as Marx might say. “Serves her bourgeois ass right,” Marx might respond ...

    Reader beware. Even with such emotional and human gestures, The French Exit is no catchy-hooks-got-you-on-the-first-listen sort of book. It intrigues and hides and even frustrates the first time through, enough so that you find yourself wanting another listen, and then another, and as the full complexity of what is happening unfolds, quantum like, you realize you’re holding a dazzling book that richly rewards those willing to sound and puzzle it out.
    Thank you Timothy Bradford and thank you H_NGM_N!

    Sunday, October 24, 2010

    Who is the Joan Didion/Susan Sontag of our generation?

    After finishing The Year of Magical Thinking yesterday, I did a little poking around on the Internet to learn more about Joan Didion's husband, John Gregory Dunne, who was apparently a well-known writer himself, though I wasn't sure if I'd heard of him. It turns out he had a fairly famous family: He was the brother of Dominick Dunne, a writer I had heard of, who was the father of Griffin Dunne (an actor I like quite a lot though he was in one of the worst movies ever made) and Dominique Dunne, an actress who was strangled to death in the '80s.

    I found an article by Dominick Dunne, published in Vanity Fair after his brother's death, reflecting on their relationship; it was interesting for a few reasons, one being that his account of their family life over the years is so different from Didion's account. DD (whom Didion calls "Nick" in the book) focuses on a years-long rift between the brothers; Didion never mentions this. At one point he remembers how Didion seemed to him at her daughter's wedding: "that day I realized again what a truly significant person she is. She had, after all, helped define a generation."

    Last night I got to thinking about this statement. I put Joan Didion and Susan Sontag in the same category: They are "women of letters" in a way, intellectuals with broad interests, writing in multiple genres, with a knack for tapping into the zeitgeist. They wrote essays that were memorable for being smart, yes, but also accessible and broadly relevant. I can't think of anyone filling this role today, by which I mean a writer and intellectual helping to "define a generation." For Generation X, David Foster Wallace and Dave Eggars probably fit the bill. (Maybe Douglas Coupland, but did he write nonfiction?) Is anyone doing this now? Is a woman doing this now?

    Joan Didion wasn't famous until her 30s. Maybe our woman of letters hasn't emerged yet.

    Thursday, October 21, 2010

    Numbers Trouble in 1920

    Matt Mullins, a poet and teacher in North Carolina, was kind enough to send me a fascinating article he found while looking through old back issues of Poetry for a research project. He stumbled upon a short essay by Harriet Monroe that addresses the issue of gender parity in poetry and publishing. Monroe reports reading an article by an "enemy-friend" (!) who claims that "feminist influence has had a bad effect" and that Poetry is "edited by a woman" and "largely dominated by another woman with radical and perverse notions of the high art" ... most of its contributors, he goes on to complain, "are feminine by accident of birth." Monroe responds that she did the math for the preceding year and found that in fact almost twice as many pages had included verse by men as by women. "The facts compel me to accuse myself of injustice toward my own sex," she writes.

    How little things change, eh? You can read the whole article (and the whole issue) here (PDF). The article begins on page 146. Thanks to Matt for the pointer!

    Monday, October 18, 2010

    absent 5

    I'm happy to announce that the fifth issue of absent magazine is now live. This issue includes new poetry by Andrea Applebee, Travis Brown, Donald Dunbar, Caroline Ebeid, Evelyn Hampton, Joshua Harmon, Kirsten Kaschock, Lily Ladewig, Francois Luong, Nicole Mauro, Ben Mirov, Danielle Pieratti, and Fred Schmalz. Please read and spread the word!

    Couple of notes on the issue:
    • Our amazing designer, Irwin Chen, coded the issue in HTML5 (same with absent 4); shitty browsers like Internet Explorer don't support HTML5, so please use an up-to-date, modern browser like Chrome, Firefox or Safari to experience the issue in all its loveliness.
    • If you're interested in the world of design, check out this interview with Irwin about poetry in the digital age. (Quote: "The ironic thing is that code IS poetry, and poetry is code. Programmers are just as anal about the significance of indentation as poets are, just as obsessive about syntax, and driven to tears by a misplaced comma or quotation mark. Programmers even put a more rigid constraint on the rendering of code than poets do, i.e., they only use monospaced fonts")
    • This is the first issue of absent that has consisted solely of unsolicited work. Every poem came straight from the old slush pile. I think this is awesome.
    In other news, Tim Jones-Yelvington was kind enough to point me to this pop song by "an all Asian American rap pop group." Enjoy!

    Thursday, October 14, 2010

    Syllabus: Youth and Malice

    A while back my friend Farrah was doing these posts I loved with syllabi for imaginary classes. (Here's one on cuteness. Here's one on acknowledging the camera.) I'd like to see a class on books and films that feature children or teenagers encountering (and in engaging in) acts of cruelty, violence, and evil, with a particular focus on children; teenagers are evil anyway. (Slasher films don't count.)


    A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes
    Lord of the Flies by William Golding
    To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
    Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood
    The Secret History by Donna Tartt
    Music for Torching and/or The End of Alice by A.M. Homes
    Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro


    Heavenly Creatures
    Stand By Me
    Mysterious Skin

    What else should be on the syllabus?

    Monday, October 11, 2010


    * Is there a term for that moment toward the end of a pop song when the singer really gives it to you, vocally speaking? I mean the emotional climax when he/she increases the frequency and amplitude and probably does some crazy runs, and it's totally the best part of the song? "Alone" has that moment. "I'm With You" has that moment. "I Want it That Way" has that moment. It's an ass-kicking moment and it deserves a name.

    * I am really starting to miss food. Like I'll see a commercial for Tyson frozen chicken nuggets at the gym and get all wistful. I would LOVE to eat some chicken nuggets. Not the ammonia-soaked kind reformulated from chicken paste, but you know, some pretty good chicken nuggets. Soy- or wheat-based nuggets were actually fine, since you're dealing with a hyper-processed food anyway. But I can't even eat those anymore. I always knew if I decided to eat meat again the first thing I'd want would be a fancy hamburger. But now I couldn't eat that if I wanted to. I hate my first-world problems.

    * I have some upcoming readings. See you there?

    The Madness Much Tour (Artifice Magazine)
    with James Adcox, Jeremy Bushnell, Andrew Farkas and others
    Saturday, 10/16, 5:30 pm
    @ The Enormous Room
    Cambridge, MA

    Untitled Reading
    with Gene Kwak, Mark Leidner, and Mike Young
    Thursday, 11/4, 8 pm
    @ Lorem Ipsum Books
    Cambridge, MA

    with Matthew Lippman, Rob MacDonald, and Leigh Stein
    Wednesday, 11/17, 7 pm
    @ Brookline Booksmith
    Brookline, MA

    Sunday, October 10, 2010

    Partial list of songs for the pop canon

    • "In the Air Tonight" by Phil Collins (1981)
    • "Centerfold" by J. Geils Band (1982)
    • "Jack & Diane" by John Cougar (1982)
    • "I Know There's Something Going On" by Frida (1982)
    • "Tainted Love" by Soft Cell (1982)
    • "Cruel Summer" by Bananarama (1983)
    • "Africa" by Toto (1983)
    • "When Doves Cry" by Prince (1984)
    • "Time After Time" by Cyndi Lauper (1984)
    • "Against All Odds" by Phil Collins (1984)
    • "Careless Whisper" by Wham! (1985)
    • "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" by Tears for Fears (1985)
    • "(I Just) Died In Your Arms" by Cutting Crew (1986)
    • "Rock Me Amadeus" by Falco (1986)
    • "Alone" by Heart (1987)
    • "No Sleep Till Brooklyn" by The Beastie Boys (1987)
    • "Parents Just Don't Understand" by DJ Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince (1988)
    • "The Promise" by When In Rome (1988)
    • "What I Am" by Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians (1988)
    • "Stand" by REM (1989)
    • "Nothing Compares 2 U" by Sinead O'Connor (1990)
    • "Tom's Diner (DNA Remix)" by Suzanna Vega (1990)
    • "I Touch Myself" by Divinyls (1991)
    • "Unbelievable" by EMF (1991)
    • "My Lovin (You're Never Gonna Get It)" by En Vogue (1992)
    • "Two Princes" by Spin Doctors (1993)
    • "I Got a Man" by Positive K (1993)
    • "Loser" by Beck (1994)
    • "Wonderwall" by Oasis (1995)
    • "Waterfalls" by TLC (1995)
    • "Who Will Save Your Soul" by Jewel (1996)
    • "Semi-Charmed Life" by Third Eye Blind (1997)

    Saturday, October 9, 2010

    More thoughts on pop

    Katy Perry is one of the worst pop stars we've seen in a while. Not only are her songs not very good -- the lyrics, when not outright offensive, are at best idiotic, and they hooks aren't catchy enough to excuse this -- she just seems completely phony in every way. She's one of those celebrities who wear so much make-up and ridiculous clothing that you have no idea what they actually look like. She always looks like the Saturday morning cartoon version of herself. It's like, if she's not musically talented, can she at least be worth ogling? "I Kissed a Girl" especially makes me angry (I've blogged about this before); she manages to objectify women in general and trivialize homosexuality in one fell swoop; there's no one I'm not offended on behalf of. And Jill Sobule already wrote that lyric into a way better song 10+ years ago, so the faux shock value is especially cheap.

    Her popularity baffles me because I have a pretty high tolerance for stupid pop music. For instance I will happily listen to radio hits by any American Idol winner. I kind of like that Adam Lambert song "Whataya Want From Me" (Oh my god, I know, that is apparently how the title is rendered), even though the lyrics make no sense -- it's one of those songs where it's really unclear if he's trying to break up with the "you" or aver his love. I mean, one of the lines in the chorus is "Just don't give up," but wouldn't you give up if your BF wrote a song to you called "Whataya Want From Me"? It's a little confrontational. Anyway, coherence isn't really crucial in a pop song; probably the greatest pop song of the '90s is "I Want It That Way" which makes at least as little sense. Stupidity is also forgivable (see above) as long as the song is really catchy; see "Manic Monday."

    I also think a semi-weak song is excusable if the video is really awesome. "Freedom 90" is actually kind of a boring song, and not much worth listening to on its own, but it's the perfect soundtrack to the video, which is one of the best videos of all time and basically short-film quality. Musically, "Father Figure" kicks its ass in every way. I have a half-baked theory that one of the elements of a good song is being able to tell where you are in its arc if you turn on the radio in the middle of it. "Father Figure" has an amazing build-up, and coming in at the end is a real let-down; "Freedom," unless you hit the bridge, kind of sounds the same all over; it's like, who cares. This is why "Total Eclipse of the Heart" is ultimately a ridiculous song and only has camp value, musically -- from the very beginning, it sounds like the final third of a song; it's all climax.

    Have you seen Ander Monson's attempt at a canon of pop? He begins with Joy Division and Talking Heads and tours through the essentials of the past 30 years. I like it a lot, and he includes some of my all-time favorite singles ("Dancing with Myself," "The Boys of Summer," "With or Without You," "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out") but the list has obvious holes, too. Women are underrepresented, of course -- he includes the Backstreet Boys but no Britney. Still, I love when intelligent people talk about mindless music.

    Who would be in your pop canon? (And I really mean POP here people; the comments on my recent post led to me believe some of my blog readers have strayed so far into the hipster fringe they've forgotten what "pop" means. So use your judgment. For example, REM probably counts, but does TMBG? That's probably a stretch. They were never on VH1.) I'd definitely include George Michael. And Britney! I'd also have to throw in the Avril Lavigne song "I'm With You" -- I hate pretty much everything else she's done, but I find this song oddly affecting and can listen to it over and over.

    Wednesday, October 6, 2010

    Questions from a high school English teacher

    John Gallaher received the below questions in an email from a high school English and writing teacher. She wrote that middle and high school teachers "generally fall into three categories when it comes to teaching poetry: they either respect it but do not know how to teach it, they do not find it to be relevant to the state standards and therefore avoid it all together, or they teach it grossly incorrectly (i.e. encouraging students to crack the poetry code)." Yep, pretty much. So how do you teach poetry? My answers to her questions are below (emphases added since some readers seemed to think these were John's answers; they are mine).

    1. What do you think are the most essential aspects of poetry that teachers should ensure young students are taught and made aware of?

    Students should be taught to approach poetry the same way they approach other arts, such as music and visual art. In other words, they shouldn't feel pressure to immediately explain the work back to themselves or to their teacher. They should be taught to appreciate it before they are asked to analyze it. The usual elements of poetry that are used as tools of analysis can be invoked to teach appreciation (metaphor, voice/tone, meter and rhyme, and so on); understanding will come later. It might be helpful to ask students to describe a poem rather than explain it.

    2. What do you think is the greatest misconception about poetry and how can educators help to dismantle these misconceptions?

    The greatest misconception is that all poems are boring. One way to dismantle this might be to teach more contemporary works first, which are often easier to relate to. More advanced classes can tackle stuff like Chaucer.

    3. What words of wisdom or advice would you offer high school English teachers attempting to teach poetry/creative writing when they themselves admit to not writing prose or poetry?

    English teachers don't seem as troubled about teaching fiction when they don't write fiction. Look at poetry more like novels or short stories -- something you can appreciate without doing yourself.

    4. Are there any exercises or lessons that you have found to be successful with students who've had little exposure to poetry OR with students who've had bad experiences with poetry in the past? If so, please share.

    My advice would be to expose students to a wide variety of work, from the very direct to the conceptual, short poems, long poems, funny poems, serious poems, old poems, new poems. Beginner students often have a narrow conception of what poetry is, and dislike that conception, but will eventually find the kind of poetry that speaks to them.

    Whatever the style, a good starting point is to look for poems that fall somewhere in the middle of the language vs. meaning scale. We get meaning through language in poetry, obviously, but the easiest entry point is often poems that have some definite ideas you can talk about as well as compelling or inventive uses of language. Explore out from there.

    5. The question you most hear from students and teachers is: "I don't get it." Teachers then typically teach poems that they themselves can "crack." How do you get both students and teachers to enjoy negative capability, innovative writing, and innovations of style and/or form?

    Just admit that there are poems you like that you don't understand. Say things like, "I love this line, but I don't know what it means." Or offer interpretations, but don't shut the poem down by claiming there is only one interpretation. Talk about the difficulty/impossibility of paraphrasing poetry -- there is no "other" poem, the real meaning. The poem is the meaning.

    6. Open-- any extra comments you may want to add or share.

    Anybody else have thoughts on teaching poetry in high school?

    UPDATE: I received a note from Marlee Stempleman, the teacher who originally posed these questions: "I'm working on a project now that includes compiling student poetry from Title 1/low-income schools, and includes a reference section for educators where poets speak to questions like the ones you answered. If you have any idea about how to best get the word out about it and get some poets to respond, please let me know." They are accepting student submissions here: EdWeb. Please help Marlee spread the word if you can!

    UPDATE 2: You have to join EdWeb to submit work, but it is free. If you'd like to send submissions to Marlee directly, contact me and I'll put you in touch with her. (My email address is on my profile page.)

    Tuesday, October 5, 2010

    Where are the Asian Americans in pop culture?

    I'm having this conversation on Twitter as we speak, but for those of you who don't do the tweet: Can you think of any Asian-American pop stars? So far the closest we've come, feels like, is Yoko Ono and William Hung (ouch). People named a string of Asians and part Asians in indie bands and whatnot (e.g., Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) plus some solo artists (e.g., Rachel Yamagata), but nobody who really crosses the fame threshold to qualify as a "pop star" per se. I'm thinking high-profile solo artists especially, like a Kelly Clarkson or even an M.I.A. (who, being South Asian, at least comes close). There are plenty of white pop stars (obvs), lots of black pop stars, even openly gay pop stars. But I can't think of any Asian American pop stars, like Chinese or Japanese or Korean men or women born in America. It ain't 'cause Asians don't like pop, or aren't musically inclined. What gives?

    In general I think Asian Americans are weirdly underrepresented in U.S. pop culture. In college like, 30% of my friends & Romantic interests were Asian. I don't get why they're so frequently tokenized or missing completely from the landscape in TV, movies, etc.

    Sunday, October 3, 2010

    Why do chefs have contempt for vegetarians?

    Yesterday I read an article called "25 things chefs never tell you," compiled from responses to a survey conducted by Food Network Magazine. Most of it, of course, is not actually surprising. For example: Unfinished bread baskets get recycled (I'm glad they don't waste it actually) and "vegetarian" food might not be 100% vegetarian. I can understand that some people would be pissed about the latter, but I generally don't bother to ask if something that appears vegetarian, like soup or risotto, contains any chicken stock; my food options are limited enough as it is. This makes things easier on the chef, right? Who "hate picky eaters"?

    Well guess what, chefs hate that too: "Some of their biggest pet peeves: When customers pretend to be allergic to an ingredient, and when vegetarians make up rules, like 'a little chicken stock is OK.'" I thought it was maybe just one crazy chef who said that, but when I commented about it on Twitter, a chef named Brandon Chavannes responded "because you're not vegetarian, you're just difficult," suggesting that this really is a common annoyance.

    So on the one hand, the vegetarian food may not be vegetarian. But if we say we're OK with that, then it's "Fuck you, you fucking hypocrite." Does this make sense to anyone? Also, I really don't see the hypocrisy in not wanting to order a hunk of meat, but not caring if a little meat juice from someone else's order dribbles on your fries. Most vegetarians do it for ethical reasons, not because they can't stand the taste or smell of meat. A little cross-contamination is inevitable in restaurants, but at the end of the week/month/life, you've eaten a lot fewer dead animals.

    Even when I ate meat freely, 5+ years ago, I disliked this contemptuous attitude that some meat-eaters cop toward vegetarians. The very existence of vegetarians doesn't prevent you from eating meat. (If their existence prevents you from enjoying meat, you might have some unexamined hangups.) It's like being pissed about pacifism.

    Saturday, October 2, 2010

    The sense of smell in literature

    From A High Wind in Jamaica:
    Presently Margaret said:

    "So that's that."

    No one answered.

    "I could smell it was an Earthquake coming when I got up. Didn't I say so, Emily?"

    "You and your smells!" said Jimmie Fernandez. "You're always smelling things!"

    "She's awfully good at smells," said the youngest, Harry, proudly, to John. "She can sort out people's dirty clothes for the wash by smell: who they belong to."

    "She can't really," said Jimmie: "she fakes it. As if everyone smelt different!"

    "I can!"

    "Dogs can, anyway," said John.

    Emily said nothing. Of course people smelt different: it didn't need arguing. She could always tell her own towel from John's, for instance: or even knew if one of the others had used it. But it just showed what sort of people Creoles were, to talk about Smell, in that open way.

    Friday, October 1, 2010

    Week is long, month is short

    It's the first again already, which means my monthly scent column is up. This time, it's all about the memories:
    Smells from childhood are especially prone to triggering deep memories: the almond-and-raw-flour smell of Play-Doh, mentholic Vick’s Vap-o-Rub, Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo. Early memories feel monumental because we had less experience to compare them to; things seem novel and amazing when you’re a kid, and somehow get coded as amazing, though later you can recognize that they’re not. But this can happen with anything emotionally charged—I had a long-distance boyfriend in college who reportedly would smell Pantene, the shampoo I used exclusively from the ages of 16 to 20 or so, in drugstores and instantly get an erection.
    I reviewed some scents that were "Big in the '90s" ('80s too), so chances are high I covered something you or someone close to you actually wore. Chances are also high, unforch, that I hated it, so apologies in advance if I shat on your sentimental favorite.

    Monday, September 27, 2010

    The cast of Kids Incorporated sings the theme to Neverending Story

    I feel like my childhood memories have been consolidated:

    I just watched at least 20 Kids Incorporated videos after reading that Fergie (of the Black Eyed Peas) was Stacy Ferguson. I had no idea. Stacy Ferguson was in the uppermost tier of coolness as far as a late '80s girlhood was concerned; her hair was always, always asymmetrical, teased all to hell and with scrunchies involved. I associate her with the cooler sister on Charles in Charge as well as the cooler Sweet Valley twin. (Then Stacey from The Babysitter's Club gets mixed in.) If you were an American girl of the middle class persuasion in 1988, you probably wanted to be either Stacy Ferguson or Jennifer Connelly from The Labyrinth.

    I feel like there is such a thing as an "'80s face," like certain stars actually had the right bone structure and fat distribution for that era, and couldn't succeed as well now, no matter their styling. Ryan Lambert had ultimate '80s face. I put David Duchovny in that category too.

    Also, I think this is how I learned to dance.

    Friday, September 24, 2010

    Alternative mottos for Washington State's tourism board

    • Washington: It Exists.
    • Washington: I Guess.
    • Washington: The Other Washington.
    • Washington: It's Drippy Here.
    • Washington: The Starbucks State.
    FYI the actual motto is "Washington: The State."

    Other horrible state mottos:
    • You Belong in ConneCTicut. (Reminding us of the all-important postal code.)
    • Great Potatoes. Tasty Destinations. (I'm not making these up.)
    • Oklahoma is OK (LOL!)
    • We Aren't Really an Island (Defensive much?)

    Wednesday, September 22, 2010

    Against effortlessness

    I've noticed a theme in the negative reactions to my book. They've mostly had to do with effort and intelligence or "cleverness" -- I see phrases like "trying too hard" and "pleased with itself." And "the reader leaves the collection feeling like they’ve just read a book written by the smartest person in class" (this last levied as a criticism or a caveat, I guess since everybody hates that guy). I don't find this kind of criticism hurtful because I wasn't trying to write an effortless book (ha, like how would that work). A seeming effortlessness can be pleasing (Matthew Rohrer's work comes to mind), but I generally prefer work that evidently required effort and intellect. (Broken record alert: I always go back to Wallace Stevens when people argue against intelligence or control in poems.)

    I recently identified a "heat" scale for "moves" in poetry: There are hot moves and cool moves, cool moves being those that seemingly involve less effort, hotter moves having more apparent intent. When a critic invokes a phrase like "trying too hard" they evince a preference for a cool poetics. But coolness is sort of a facade; you can't write a poem without trying, and writing a good poem that appears effortless usually involves effort. Most of the time, actually trying less hard yields shittier, more forgettable poems.

    The thing is, I feel like my poetry uses more cool moves than hot moves. I mean the whole second section (the "blogpoems") was built around the idea of throwaway poems, daily poems, poems as blog posts. Accordingly I wrote them fast and revised minimally. So, like, has the cool poetics thing gone too far? In a world (movie trailer voice) where a blogpoem is trying too hard, can there be room for a sonnet?

    Coming to terms with people not liking you:

    Sign of maturity, or lazy complacency and resistance to change?

    Monday, September 20, 2010

    Odds & ends

    * More info on the Poetry & Comedy reading: It's this Saturday, 9/25, at 7 p.m. It will be hosted by The Multifarious Array at Pete's Candy Store (709 Lorimer in Williamsburg, Brooklyn) and the full line-up is me, Evan Fleischer, Sommer Browning, Gabby Dunn, Mark Leidner, and Dan Magers. Some of these people are comics. Some of these people are poets. Some are both. You figure it out.

    * I'm also reading in Boston next Monday, 9/27, an at event called the Drunken Poets' Dinner. Despite the name, it will be mixed-genre, and in keeping with the name, there will be lots of beer, because it's sponsored by Narragansett. There will also be tasty, fusion-y food. It's at Toro (in the South End) at 9:30 p.m. The event is invite-only (exxxclusive), but I have a limited number of invites to share. Email me if you're interested in going.

    * I finally finished Howards End. It's one of the most feminist novels I've ever read, if not the most. And it was written in 1910. Who knew? I'd seen the movie a long time ago, but didn't really remember the plot, or even who played which sister, just a few striking scenes. So I got to experience the spoiler-free magic of both. I saw an article today asking why people read when we often can't remember much about a book as soon as a month after reading it. Whosy what? What does that have to do with anything? I don't read in the hopes of total recall (nor do I read the novelization of Total Recall, though my brother used to have it), I read for enjoyment, intellectual stimulation, and to learn. (By the way, people with severe memory problems can still learn.) I've forgotten most meals I've had, most conversations, most dreams, etc. Still glad I had 'em.

    * My (aforementioned) brother works at the company that designed this Wii game. This is a "behind-the-scenes" version:

    You can watch the straight trailer here. Pretty wild, huh?

    Saturday, September 18, 2010

    Things I'm supposed to like that I don't

    • NPR
    • Charlie Rose
    • Sleater Kinney
    • Werner Herzog
    • Emily Dickinson (she's okay, but I never want to read her)
    • The Great Gatsby (and Fitzgerald in general)
    • Haiku
    • Corn on the cob
    • Star Wars
    • Chanel No. 5
    • Scotch
    • Freaks and Geeks
    • Spending all day at the beach
    • Macs and iPhones
    • Movies
    What are yours?

    And save the "But blah is so good!!!" comments. Do you think I haven't heard it before?

    Friday, September 17, 2010

    Don't get emo about language change

    As language evolves, some words widen in scope while other words narrow. "Girl," for example, used to mean a child of either sex. To put it another way, a word can come to apply to a subset or a superset of the set it originally applied to. I can't remember the "sexy" linguistic term(s) for this kind of change. (It's kind of a pet peeve of mine when people use "sexy" to basically mean technical. Isn't it just an excuse to say "sexy," suggesting that you either are sexy or are particularly tuned in to sexiness?) This is a different process from words becoming pejorative (less positive), the way "fine" used to mean lovely or excellent and now just means okay, or "handicapped" became an insult.

    I think the term "emo" is widening in scope. When I first heard this term it referred to a very specific genre of music (an example of which is Sunny Day Real Estate). Now it seems to refer to anything or anybody that is emotional or associated with emotions. I heard someone refer to an upbeat pop song by Regina Spektor as "emo" on Twitter yesterday. Long bangs? Emo. Using the hood on your hoodie? Emo. I feel alienated from people who use the word "emo" in this way, probably similar to how my parents feel about my generation's use of the word "awesome."

    What's a term that is currently narrowing in scope? Like it seems to be applicable in fewer situations than it was earlier in your lifetime? I'm having trouble thinking of one. You could probably do this exercise just with music genres, but I don't know enough about them.

    Thursday, September 16, 2010

    Variations on a whale joke

    There's this joke that John likes to tell and this is how he tells it:

    A guy walks into a bar and sits down next to a whale. The whale turns to him and says: "[insert realistic whale sounds for 10 to 30 seconds]." Guy looks at the whale and says, "Man, you are wasted."

    It's a pretty good joke, but I always thought it would be better if the parts were switched, so the guy makes the whale sounds, like he's trying to communicate, and then the whale says "Man, you are wasted."

    Last week this joke came up again (it comes up every six months or so, it seems) and I suddenly realized that they're probably both supposed to be whales. That's probably how he heard it first, but then mixed it up with the standard "guy walks into a bar" opening.

    What's you favorite? I think it makes the most sense if they're both whales, but I still kind of like my version best.

    Tuesday, September 14, 2010

    Paige Taggart

    I am loving Paige Taggart lately, though I see and speak to her almost never. Here's a poem of hers from the new So & So (which reminds me a lot of Karl Parker actually):

    The Yellow Crocus of Down Under

    I sifted through the late crowd
    wasn’t going anywhere in particular.
    I felt the find. Blah
    wire and deep commotion. I felt that I was an
    extraneous person to my actions,
    being less involved meant
    I didn’t have to be impressionistic, I pulled
    down the curtain of a very minor musical. I started to compose
    false drama; a stone throw away from
    ingenuity. I have begun to think about
    what it would be like to spend my entire
    life on the edge of sanity. The frequency of those
    illusory visits are such that
    they ignite sub-par feline crawl. I constantly don’t care or if
    I do, I don’t have a scrotum to lose. And the big balloon
    keeps trafficking through my window, I’m fat
    between its red and green zones. There’s no need to recognize
    yellow. Eat. Sleep. Caucasian.

    Saturday, September 11, 2010

    You're not the cure, you're the disease

    I recently shared a post in Google Reader called "Something's Wrong":
    Most people, confronted with a problem they can’t solve, say “We just have to live with it,” and very rapidly gloss into “It’s not really a problem.” Aging is often painful and debilitating and ends in death. Almost everyone has decided it’s not really a problem – simply because it has no known solution. But we also used to think that senile dementia and toothlessness were “just part of getting old.”
    Allen commented: "I don't really agree that it is difficult to call attention to problems." But the point isn't that problems aren't identified enough, it's that just because there is no obvious solution to a problem doesn't mean it isn't a problem. In other words, problems are too often dismissed as the norm.

    I experienced this when I started feeling sick all the time. I went to several doctors, including hot young GI specialists, who all listened to my story and my symptoms and told me, "It sounds like IBS. There's not much you can do about it. Try eating more fiber." They acted like because my problem was common (feeling sick to my stomach every time I ate), it wasn't really a problem, as in something that might have a solution, rather just something to get used to. There turned out to be a very definite solution. I stopped eating gluten and felt roughly ten times better.

    I think there are a lot of "problems of affluence" we tend to assume are just the way it goes. More primitive cultures often lack problems we assume are common to all humans, like acne and tooth decay (which we address with cures of affluence like fancy face washes and medications). There are cultures that get up to half of their calories from saturated fat and have no incidence of heart disease. We're quick to blame "genetics," but why not our fucking lifestyles?

    Sandwiches within sandwiches

    There's been a trend going on for a while of extreme fast food in which one type of greasy sandwich is embedded in another (e.g., a hamburger using grilled cheese sandwiches for buns). For the most part these recursive sandwiches wouldn't seem that appealing to me even if I ate bread or meat.

    But finally there's a sandwich-within-a-sandwich concept I can get fully on board with: repochetas, or tacos made with quesadillas. Is that brilliant or what?

    If Taco Bell did this (it's only a matter of time) they'd use burrito-size flour tortillas and fill them with beef paste or "grilled" "chicken" and probably shove the whole thing into another taco shell (crispy this time). And that would be sort of disgusting and the media would say it's not okay and if you're going to eat it you have to add more bread. But the key is using small corn tortillas and a very hot but mostly dry skillet, and a light filling. I made quesadilla tacos last night with just a schmear of refried beans on the inside topped with a kind of "salad" of shredded iceberg lettuce, chopped tomato, cilantro, and avocado in a light creamy lime dressing. (They didn't have any coleslaw mix at Whole Foods and I wasn't in the mood to shred my own cabbage.) And a dash of Tabasco. Two per person. Perfect.

    Friday, September 10, 2010


    Things that are funny*:

    Achewood. Space Balls. Napoleon Dynamite. Rich Juzwiak. Go Fug Yourself. The FAIL Blog (can't help it). Savage Love. Evelyn Waugh. Mark Leidner. Sommer Browning. Lamont Price. Get a Life. Vintage Steve Martin. Vintage Woody Allen. Vintage Tao Lin. Mark Twain. "Fifi, No, No." Mairead Byrne. Offensive jokes. Dan Brown. Mystery Science Theater 3000, the show, especially the Alien from L.A. episode. The Pottery Barn Kids catalog. Soap Dish. Hugh Laurie. Chris Eigeman. The Golden Girls. Vacation. Paige Taggart.

    Things that are sad*:

    The end of Away. The end of Rabbit, Run. The end of Days of Heaven. The House of Mirth. Gone with the Wind. That scene in Ray where he's looking for the cricket. The story of Mr. Tux. Most of my memories of living in Beacon Hill. Most of my memories period. Old emails. Hangovers. Sundays. The recurring dream where everyone hates me and it's probably my fault.

    *In my opinion, duh.

    Tuesday, September 7, 2010

    September Gurls

    * I've got three poems in the new issue of Sink Review. These are from the manuscript I've been working on since putting The French Exit to bed. The manuscript now has a working title: The Self Unstable. (Is the working title working? Not sure, but it feels legitimizing to have one. Also, it means I can stop giving the individual prose blocks titles.) There's lots more awesome poetry (Ariana "It was then that I entered a period of despair" Reines, Dan "They want to play doctor but I just want a real doctor" Hoy, Matt "I’m fortunate enough" Henriksen, etc.) to read while you're there.

    * Along with Sommer Browning and Evan Fleischer, I'm putting together "A Night of Poetry and Comedy," as I like to conceive of it, i.e., a mix(er) of poets and stand-up, what's the difference anyway. This will be in Brooklyn (@ Pete's Candy Store) on Sept. 25. Save the date! More details TK.

    * I'm reading Chandler Burr's other perfume book, The Perfect Scent. Really sucks in comparison to The Emperor of Scent, I'm sad to say. Chandler pretty much phoned this one in. I keep finding myself shocked at how bad and lazy the writing is:
    Creating perfume is exceedingly complicated. It is an art form that is, for example, infinitely more complex than, say, making clothing. Cutting silk crepe into a dress means a piece of silk crepe cut and stitched--expertly, we can stipulate--into the form of a dress.
    WTF? Is it me, or is that an entirely meaningless tautology. I mean, it's true and all: All you have to do to make a dress is make a dress. Point taken. I mean, what? Depressing.

    * There's a cool exhibit of Richard Avedon's fashion photography at the MFA right now. One of his muses was a model/actress named Suzy Parker, whom I'd never heard of before. She's from Texas!

    Isn't she pretty? She's so '50s, but also kind of '80s. She'd fit right into a White Snake video.

    * SOTD: Hanae Mori Haute Couture.

    Thursday, September 2, 2010

    The hypocrisy of Neneh Cherry

    Neneh Cherry - Buffalo Stance (1989)

    While she's singing "No money man can win my love," she's wearing a necklace with a big-ass money sign. Way to live by your principles, Neneh.

    Nonetheless, one of the hottest dance tracks of the '80s, no?

    Wednesday, September 1, 2010

    Another review of TFE

    September 1 is Review The French Exit Day, it would seem. Simeon Berry's review is now up on Gently Read Literature:
    This masterful confusion of material and immaterial animates the book, and the dispassion about the self allows the writer to enact a number of equally lovely sleights of hand. Many of the poems skate across the surface tension of this conflict: namely, that to talk about trauma, to delineate its causes and stylize its effects, is to obscure the lovely dilemma of empiricism, of seeing and knowing. Even while the author is drawn to image and reason, she is also in love with the vanishing point, where all perspective is ecstatically compressed into a single node. Thus, the standard lyric exhaust of “your ash breath in the air” is “translated elsewhere…” (“Commissioned”). I found myself admiring the many ways Gabbert’s rhetoric points off-stage, indicating that absence is the most intellectually erotic product.
    We (me, the Birds boys) couldn't be happier. Well, theoretically, we probably could be, but it would require advanced pharmaceuticals and liquid money.

    The psychological end of summer

    My newest scent column is up. It's on difficult pleasures. In trying to come up with a catchy title, I kept thinking of that Sylvia Plath poem, "On the Difficulty of Conjuring up a Dryad" (which has a partner poem, "On the Plethora of Dryads"). But there's really no cute way to pun on that title. Also, what's a dryad? A little sprite of some kind? I love how "sprite" is a video game term. Anyway, here's an excerpt from the column:
    The assumption from the Contract side, of course, is that it isn’t difficult to write a difficult novel. It’s a common assumption (the idea that it’s harder to write a hit pop song than a strangely beautiful melody), but a problematic one—the problem arising from the fact that we can’t evaluate what we don’t understand. And this problem isn’t unique to art; it’s very difficult to verify mathematical proofs or review scientific papers that are both novel and advanced, simply because so few people are in a position to do so. Given the probability that some art seems complex when we approach it because its form or method or structure or materials are unfamiliar—not because its creator is a willful obfuscator—it seems wise to give complexity the benefit of the doubt, until inspection proves it meaningless.
    The new issue also includes a great poem by Ben Mazer and an essay by Joshua Harmon, which I haven't read yet, but I can almost guarantee is brilliant. (When will I learn to spell "guarantee"?)

    Also in my inbox this morning, very happy news of an awesome review of The French Exit in The Rumpus, by the very smart and thoughtful Virginia Konchan:
    The prison of time, according to polyglot Vladimir Nabokov, is “spherical and without exits, short of suicide.” Freedom, and even happiness, to follow this logic, would be to carve a space for oneself within this time-bound context, yet in Elisa Gabbert’s The French Exit, the options for assertion of presence, and, conversely, the Stevensian art of “waving adieu,” abound. To leave without saying goodbye is to render a “French Exit,” yet Gabbert’s debut collection skims this idiom of connotations of peremptory haste, imparting to the concept (here rendered literally by the word SORTIE emblazoned on French doors which demarcate an interior) a molten wealth of contradiction: nostalgia sans sentimentality, anxiety sans self-preoccupation.
    I love her reading of the book; I think she caught lots of little Easter eggs.

    SOTD: Rossy de Palma. LOVE. Like top 10 love.