Monday, December 31, 2012

Mini-Reviews: Looking a gift horse in the nose

For the longest time I thought the proverbial gift horse was literally a horse that brings you gifts, and "looking the gift horse in the mouth" was kind of like biting the hand that feeds you. Don't look into his mouth, he might chew your eyes out! Or maybe it's like the second trial in The Neverending Story, a mirror that shows you your "true self." Finally I realized the horse IS the gift. (And you're probably looking in its mouth to check for gum health or whatever.)

Anyway. Today I'm reviewing some recent gifts. Thank you to my mom for the Nostalgie and to Sherri Miller for the surprise fairy-godmother bag of wonders!

Sonoma Scent Studio Nostalgie  The aptly named Nostalgie is a throw-back kind of scent, and its nostalgic qualities became all the more apparent when I sprayed it for the first time. I had previously worn it dabbed from a sample vial (both in its present form and a couple of previous incarnations), and dabbing a perfume tends to downplay its top notes and rush you through to the drydown. Sprayed from my new purse spray, I find that Nostalgie opens with a big cloud of sweet, powdery aldehydes  indeed, it's reminiscent of a Vega (a comparison Angela at Now Smell This drew recently) or even an aldehydic lipstick scent like Broadway Nite or Andy Tauer's Une Rose Vermeille, giving that frosted-glass effect to the florals. When dabbed, it had put me more in mind of my vintage Eau de Joy, with its big, bright, rosy jasmine. But in Nostalgie, the more prominent aldehydes smear the florals out (mimosa and violet in addition to rose and jasmine), making them less distinct and more perfumey. This is up there with Jour Ensoleille and To Dream among Laurie Erickson's perfumiest perfumes, if by "perfumey" we mean retro and feminine, as opposed to legible and unisex (like, say, Tabac Aurea). Upping the retro quotient is a pleasantly animalic thread running below the aldehydic floral accord, a slightly pissy undercurrent that is difficult to pin down  it could be any combination of the beeswax or leather or jasmine absolute or patchouli or oakmoss or musk, all of which have animalic facets. That soupcon of a human smell underneath the soapy artificial scent of aldehydes and the naturally sweet smells of gardens and forests is what could fool you into thinking Nostalgie really is a vintage scent from the '40s or '50s, complete with a bit of civet. It's heart-warming to know that someone is still producing scents like this, full of naturals and nearly oblivious to trends (though there's been a recent mini-trend for this style among indie perfumers; see Tauer's Miriam and Dawn Spencer Hurwitz's Pandora). Laurie Erickson is a treasure.

Dior Oud Ispahan  I have it on good authority that no commercial oud perfumes these days actually contain oud  it's too rare and costly. So this, like others of recent vintage, is an interpretation of oud. To my nose, this rose + oud perfume (a combo that's getting as popular as rose + patchouli) doesn't scream "ROSE!" and "OUD!" in the manner of By Kilian Rose Oud, with its sweeter, louder rose and much more diffusive, petrol-y oud accord (an odor I'm not overly fond of outside of gas stations). Instead, I get a somewhat sour saffron top note (a la Agent Provocateur) and a sheer, dry rose accord, plus some leather and earthiness. Now, some of this we can choose to ascribe to "oud." Conveniently, the scent profile of oud (Persolaise describes it as "woody, leathery, faecal, boozy, earthy and petrol-like" and I'd add "peaty" and "meaty" based on an oud sample I got from Liz Zorn, which I do believe contains real Laotian oud) is pretty similar to that of labdanum (which is certainly woody, leathery, and earthy, but without the gas and poop notes). And guess what! Labdanum is listed as the top note of Oud Ispahan. As it dries down, more of a honeyed, ambery character comes out, but it never gets truly sweet  and all the while a big animalic note is growing in proportion to the rest, till finally it smells like a hunk of sandalwood at the zoo. These Collection Privee bottles, incidentally, are so enormous that the price per ounce works out to just $27, but a full bottle costs more than $200. While I like it very much, I find that Agent Provocateur does most of what Oud Ispahan does (the spice, the dry geranium-like rose, the earthiness, the dirty base) but with more richness and what feels to me like more naturals. YMMV.

Mona di Orio Musc  I ignored the Mona di Orio line for years, for pretty much the same reasons that I have largely ignored Le Labo: a) a lot of them got trashed by Luca Turin, whose opinion I disproportionately value even though I often disagree with his assessments, and b) they're too expensive for me anyway, at $200+ a bottle. However, on a recent trip to NYC, I went to MiN, and after 20 minutes or so of half-hearted blotter-sniffing, collapsed on the big leather couch from sore feet and fatigue. The MdO collection was sitting on the table in front of me, so I picked one up and sniffed the nozzle. The bottle was Musc. I expected something heavily animalic in the manner of Muscs Koublai Khan, but instead I smelled super-fancy baby powder. I got some on the cuff of my coat and it smelled delicious well into the next day. I came home dreaming about it and a lovely fellow perfume fan sent me a gift decant. When you spray it on, it's surprisingly green, in the direction of the grassy, vegetal top notes of L'Ombre dans l'Eau but not quite so strident. That fades and you're left with a fluffy, sugary sweetness, like powdered sugar donettes, but recognizably floral as well  with soft green and violet notes much like my beloved Flower by Kenzo, which I've taken a long break from due to overexposure to a certain synthetic musk, thankfully absent here. In fact, I assume what you're paying for is some combination of subtle, high-quality synthetic musks that smell clean without smelling like laundry detergent (because, amazingly, they've never been used in one). I hope Flower will smell right to me again one day, but until then, this will get me through. And if I ever inherit a million I'll buy myself a bottle.

Diptyque Volutes  I'm not sure what the standard alcohol formulation smells like, but in the solid perfume, Volutes is oddly reminiscent of Carmex. I may be unduly influenced by the look of the stuff, but I've tried a number of solid perfumes, and they all look a little like Carmex, and none of the other ones have smelled like it. That said, maybe because I'm getting over the flu, I sort of enjoy the effect. It smells like herbal, slightly mentholated vanilla – not as minty as white Tic-Tacs, but in the same crossover zone between candy and medicine. And come to think of it, the taste of white Tic-Tacs always reminded me of the smell of pipe tobacco. I'm in no position to pick this apart into components or stages, given the state of my sinuses, but if memory serves, this didn't evolve much the first time I wore it a couple of weeks ago, pre-virus. It's a simple, good smell, not a bit perfumey. But, as recent tobacco scents go, it doesn't hold a bougie candle (Diptyque pun intended) to Spicebomb.

Aside 1: Last week, in the nadir of my misery – or would it be the zenith? – I tried to buy a bottle of Tea for Two from the L'Artisan website, listed at $60 for 50 ml, a steal even if it wasn't impossible to find. I was cheered! Two days later I got an email from their customer service rep saying that Tea for Two was not actually available, and I had been refunded. I was saddened, but I used the money to buy myself a bottle of Spicebomb instead. I like Tea for Two better, but they're pretty similar and it's better than nothing.

Aside 2: Strong investment in the romantic attachment of two fictional characters is called "shipping," as in "I ship Chuck and Blair (duh)." Is there a word for it when you become super-attached to a contestant on a reality TV show? That both Cassadee Pope and Alex Guarnaschelli won their shows (The Voice and The Next Iron Chef, respectively) pleased me greatly.

Happy new year, my friends.

Friday, December 21, 2012

SMH at the Atlantic Wire's "Worst Words" List (+ Some Links)

Word snobs are the new grammar nazis, which I guess makes ageist squeamishness the new literacy privilege. It's become "a thing" (or was this always a thing?), at the close of the year, when in full list-making mode, to make grandiose announcements about which words and phrases are officially terrible and should be retired, so we can move into the future with unsullied vocabs.

The Atlantic Wire, the "what matters now"(!) division of the ever-insufferable Atlantic, is on top of the trend and has published an A to Z list of the "worst words" of 2012. The list of words we're supposedly supposed to stop using includes such common interjections as "really" (really?!) and "ugh," basic concrete nouns like "hashtag," "vagina" (these things just mean what they mean, folks, those are the words for those things) and "quinoa" (clearly included simply because they chose the odious alphabet format), as well as brilliant acronyms like "TLDR" and "YOLO." What do these humorless pricks have against slang? Naturally, "hipster" is on there, but isn't it tres hipster to denounce a term just because it's popular or, as they say of the portmanteau, has "jumped the shark"? (No longer are we denouncing only single terms, whole categories of word formation get the boot.)

I'm just going to object to their objections on a couple of these:

Ping: They quote someone from Gizmodo saying "I hate ping because it means the exact same thing as contact. There's no difference between ping and contact." A) "Contact" itself is a perfect example of language change, since it used to be a noun and then got verbed, much like "impact" (another word that the word snobs frequently "ding"). Why can't you let the language change?! B) "Ping" and "contact" are not the same, because tone matters. "Contact" sounds needlessly formal in the context in which people use the word "ping." You might tell a job applicant that you'll "contact" them within 2 weeks, but you tell your chummy coworker to "ping" you when they have those slides ready. It's a workplace-specific "LMK."

Slacks: I feel like most word snobbery comes down to a kind of ageism. When you're young, you hate words that old people use. When you're old, you hate words that young people use. "Slacks" belongs to the former category. Why else would people hate this word? I think it's cute and funny and, like "trousers," it conjures a particular kind of pant, so it's not purely synonymous with "pants." I also support "blouse" and "hose" and even the once-detested "panties," though I still don't and can't use it to refer to my own undergarments with a straight face.

I give them "glocal" which sounds stupid but honestly, I had never heard it before reading the list. But I don't understand the problem with Urban Dictionary-style neologisms like "butt-chugging," "brogrammer" and "YOLO." These words are hilarious! I mean, don't these stodgy journos realize that words like this are always already ironic? At least half the time, they are used with camp.

And can somebody tell me what is wrong with the word "moist"? It's not on this particular list, but this perfectly serviceable word is so despised that someone suggested we refer to well-made baked goods by synonyms like "hydrated" and "spongy." All I can say is, Ugh. Keep your hydrated, spongy pumpkin bread well away from me.

OK, enough of that. I have a couple of links to share with you. I have a few new poans up in the December issue of Everyday Genius, guest-edited by Sandra Simonds. This is one of them:

What I miss about childhood is awe – the filter of inexperience, without the further filter of inadequacy, shame. But shame, a friend told me, can be comforting. Adulthood is knowing that someone is watching, an increasing sensation of things being fixed. When I hear the song for the second time, what I like is its familiarity. It has not become more beautiful, nor have I gained access to its beauty.


In honor of the end, Dustin Luke Nelson put together The Last Reading on Earth, Ever: A Marathon Reading of Apocalyptic Writing, including video readings by Amaranth Borsuk, Heather Christle, Amelia Gray, Matt Hart, Becca Klaver, Michael Martone, Joseph Michael Owens, Christopher Salerno, Bianca Stone, Mathias Svalina, Maureen Thorson, Rachel Zucker and many more, including me (reading "Pitville," a poem I co-wrote with Kathleen Rooney; it appears in That Tiny Insane Voluptuousness). I seem very sad in the video, but I guess that's appropriate for the end of the world. You can watch all the videos on the InDigest Mag tumblr, or on YouTube.

Love to you all, and a happy new year.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

No new years, just higher numbers

I've had these two posts saved as drafts in Blogger since 2010. Instead of deleting them, I'm publishing them. Why the hell not? I'm not sure why I didn't in the first place, and they basically still apply, except that I don't live in Boston anymore.


To date, I've seen two reviews of my book that suggest its intelligence, or braininess, is ultimately its downfall. Though I absolutely appreciate any reviews and readings of the book (and don't expect, or even want, really, everyone to like it), I admit to being a little perplexed and a little disappointed by these types of comments. There are worse things than to be called "smart" as a kind of backhanded compliment; I'd certainly rather my poems fail for being too smart than for being too stupid. But it's hard for me to understand this mentality. My favorite poets are often intimidating in their intelligence (Wallace Stevens, Anne Carson); I've never read a poem and thought, "This would be better if it weren't so smart."

Take this passage in a review on a blog called 52 Songs:
Wordsworth described an affliction of an “almost savage torpor,” caused by political upheaval, the growth of cities, and the “craving for extraordinary incident, which the rapid communication of intelligence hourly gratifies.” (What would he have made of the 21st Century?) For him, poetry was to defend and preserve all that’s good in the world, was to carry forward with it “relationship and love,” and it would do this by using the language of common men and the subjects of common life, reminding readers of a shared humanity. Even as his diagnosis remains sapient, his prescription has come to feel quaint, as much of the Romantic project has, in the face of lightning-quick change and rampant ecological destruction. This may explain why poets like Gabbert retreat into their own heads, describing the distorted view of the world perception affords, like the backward, very limited vision provided within a camera obscura (which happens to be the subject of one of her poems): It may not be an accurate picture of things, but it’s mine. A blurb on the back of the book makes this very point, describing the work as “obsessively interior.”
I want to stress that I find this to be an intelligent (in a good way) and careful review, whether or not we agree on what makes a good poem. But we do seem to disagree, because I don't see any way of escaping my own head or the view of the world my own perception affords. I don't see how anyone can. But I can glimpse the view from other people's cameras. Part of the reason I go to poetry (or any art) is for unfamiliar perceptions and unfamiliar ideas. Though there's often pleasure in recognition and validation, what awes me is the perspective, the thought, I've never seen before. By writing from my own perception, I don't presume to suggest the view is not distorted; I only hope to make those distortions interesting.


I've been thinking about how certain hobbies seem to entail or at least encourage an interest in being an "early adopter." (I use the scare quotes because it's not like being among the first to see Sex and the City 2 puts you on the bleeding edge of consumer technology.) In high school and college, I was really into movies and restaurants--which, I now realize, are not hobbies so much as variations on consumerism--and I often felt this desperate panic, usually triggered by reading a review, to see a new movie or try a new restaurant as soon as possible. Like it killed me that other people in the world had been there/done that and I hadn't. I assume it's the same feeling Mac people get when a new iProduct comes out.

I don't get that feeling much anymore and I don't miss it at all. I stopped caring about movies sometime in the mid-aughts when even indie movies were starting to feel self-parodic, like late Seinfeld. I stopped caring about restaurants after living in Boston for a couple years and realizing most of them are bad here. (I could do a whole separate post on why the restaurant "scene" in Boston sucks. LMK, I take requests.) TV breeds a similar feeling, like you can't leave the house if your show is on that night, God forbid your coworkers see it before you, though I guess this is maybe less true in the DVR era. Giving up TV actually helped me stop caring so much about movies, since I never see the trailers anymore. Even music--I used to invest a lot more time (and money) into keeping up with new artists and albums. Again, there was a sort of fear (a variation on FOMO, Fear of Missing Out) that went along with being actively interested in music, a strong need to be able to hang with the other snobs. I still like music, duh, but I don't even try to keep up with what's cool, it's too much pressure.

I'm not sure if I've lost interest in those hobbies because they inspire that feeling or if it's just a coincidence. Maybe I'm just Old Enough to Know Better? A lot of perfume freaks go into conniptions every time one of the niche firms launches a new scent--maybe I'd be flipping out too if I'd gotten into perfume 10 years ago. But I have a lot more disposable income now than I did then, and I still can't afford $200 bottles of perfume. So why even smell them? Clearly you can enjoy music, food, perfume, and movies without even bothering with the Hot New Shit with Buzz, although you can go too far in the other direction and obsess about owning every classic jazz album or whatever.

Poetry seems sort of immune to all this desperate consumerism. Even when a book has "buzz," it's (almost) never enough that anyone I know is pissing their pants to pre-order it and be the first the review it. Maybe those people are out there, but it's certainly not the norm, as it seems to be among serious music/perfume/food nerds. Are there just not enough of us to cause that kind of mass hysteria? That's probably part of it, but I feel like writing, and even reading, aren't inherently about consumption. (I read way more books than I buy, via the library, borrowing, trading, review copies, etc.) I think focusing more of my energy on hobbies that are more private and personal (e.g., cooking instead of eating in restaurants) has made me happier, maybe, kind of. Less competitive.

I realize this sounds self-righteous. But look, I still buy wild amounts of shit I don't need on a weekly basis. Baby steps.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The best books I read this year

Jury's still out on whether this is the most wonderful time of the year (maybe it is; I just learned that, contrary to popular belief, suicide rates peak in spring and summer, not during the winter holidays). But it's certainly the listiest time of the year. Over at Open Letters, all the editors are planning to write about the best thing they read this year. I'm usually stymied by questions like this because I have trouble even remembering what I've read. Then I realized that the list of the best books I read in 2012 is almost identical to the list of the books that I finished in 2012. In other words, I rarely finish books that I don't really like. Further, if I'm excited about a book, I usually write about it, here or elsewhere. So I was able to scan my blog and figure out a list of the five best books that I read this year. And here they are, in the order that I read them:

1. The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers. I wrote about this for OLM's Summer Reading feature (for which I chose the theme "youth and malice"). I don't love Frankie quite as much as I love Mick, a similar character in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, but TMOTW has the benefit of being all about Frankie, whereas Mick has to share space with a lot of other main characters. Here's what I wrote about it in July:
This short novel is a fascinating portrait of an independent young mind trapped in the wrong town at the wrong time. Upon seeing her brother and his fiancée together – “the two prettiest people I ever saw” – and learning they plan to live in another town, 12-year-old tomboy Frankie is forced into a sudden realization of her self and its circumstances, similar to Emily [from A High Wind in Jamaica]. But for Frankie, this awakening is acutely painful, because she just as quickly realizes that her own lot is both undesirable and inescapable. Like that, her world changes, but she cannot change the world, because she is still just a girl.
2. Desperate Characters by Paula Fox. A funny novel about a middle-class couple living in Brooklyn in the late '60s. Very much of its time (dated, I guess you could say?) but very worthwhile nonetheless. I typed up an excerpt from it here.

3. Open City by Teju Cole, who(m), by the way, I had the pleasure of meeting the last time I visited New York. ***SPOILER ALERT*** This is a book about culpability – at least, that's what I decided after reading it, but it's too complex to reduce to a single abstract noun. What makes it great, I think, is that you get seduced into thinking it's just a picaresque(-esque) novel about a good man, a doctor and flâneur, who happens to meet a lot of interesting people. It seems anecdote-driven. But (guess what!) he's an unreliable narrator. A very well made book that is not overly tidy. (Excerpt here.)

4. The Mountain Lion by Jean Stafford. I bought this in Boulder one afternoon (or, more accurately, bade John to buy it for me) because I'm always a sucker for the aforementioned youth and malice angle, and it takes place in Colorado (my new home state!), and we collect those pretty NYRB volumes. I'm also very interested in brother-sister relationships. It's elegant, dry, beautifully observed, and quite gutting towards the end.

5. Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner. I just wrote a relatively lengthy post about this one, so I'll direct you there rather than repeating it all here. I'll just add: Ben Lerner is the same age as me and vastly more successful, but I'm not jealous at all because I truly believe he is successful for the right reasons: His writing is ambitious but not humorless, complex but not labored. He's found ways to write about big ideas without being a pretentious dick about it. (I mean, purely on the basis of his books; I don't know him personally.) I'm glad he's being published and read.

You'll notice these are all short to medium-sized novels. Well, I guess that's my favorite kind of book to read. There may have been others, but I can only think of one other book that I read cover to cover and did not put on this list: Wild by Cheryl Strayed, which I liked (a lot in parts), but a) found uneven and b) if you're the kind of person who would like that book, you probably either already read it or you plan to. I'm not usually that kind of person (a reader of memoir or "true life adventure"), but for some reason I found her story compelling. I especially liked the part where they had to shoot the horse.

So yeah, not counting poetry (which I read in short bursts, often most of a book in a single sitting, or just one poem several times in a row, or not at all) and countless articles both online and off-, my total number of books read isn't high. You could say that I read slowly, but I think it's more that I read selectively (pickily, if you prefer). If I pick up a book and it's not exactly what I feel like reading at that moment, it tends to languish on the end table for days or weeks at a time, while I do other things (like tweet and read "Martha's Month").

As for what poetry I liked most this year, I have to say I'm really having trouble remembering what all I read before autumn hit, but in the last few months I have especially loved Madame X by Darcie Dennigan and Nervous Device by Catherine Wagner (expect more on the latter in an upcoming issue of Lemon Hound).

What about y'all?

Monday, December 10, 2012

Found epistle

I decided this weekend to abandon the last novel I started, which I knew sucked from the first few pages, but which I read half of because I was on a plane. Since I'll be boarding a plane again within 10 days, I wanted something slim and paperback. I pulled The End of the Affair off the shelf, and flipping it open found a folded piece of paper, covered in handwriting, tucked inside. I opened it and found that it was a letter, and to avoid any breaches of privacy I quickly glanced at the signature to see if it was a private note to John. It was signed "Your daughter, [first name redacted]" -- and because John is not a father I knew it was not addressed to him. The vast majority of our books are bought used, so I assumed it was a found object, a relic from a stranger's past and safe to read. It was a touching letter, clearly written by a young woman expressing gratitude and indebtedness to her parents for supporting her (financially and otherwise) through a move to New York. As I read I formed a mental image of this lovely stranger. Then I came to a line toward the end that said "I suppose I've inherited a bit of the [last name redacted] difficulty with expressing emotion verbally." Putting the first name and last name together I realized I knew the person. The book must have come to us via a friend rather than a bookstore. It was a strange experience, a sort of slow-motion triple-take where I felt myself on the verge of violating someone's privacy, then safely at a distance, then suddenly and unexpectedly granted personal knowledge of the emotional life of someone I don't know very well. But of all the unsanctioned glimpses you could get into someone's past and personality, it was a rather flattering one. I don't suppose her parents ever saw the letter, unless it was a first draft that she later transferred to type or fancier stationery. Odd to think that I would get to read it instead of them.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Not enough

Does anyone know of a poem that ends with a line something like, "but only a little, and not enough"? It's used in a wry way to refer to something like death or pain, I am pretty sure. I convinced myself it was from a Dream Song but I can't find it in Berryman's oeuvre. I thought, too, that either Kathy or John would know where it's from but they did not. No help from Twitter, either. It's driving me starkers.

As part of my search I found this old "remix" I did of Dream Song 118.

118 Remix
After John Berryman
He asked himself, Am I having fun? How would I
know? The dancing was tiring,
young alien bodies slamming & prodding
from every side. He felt if he were still himself
he'd find some dim alcove for two 
and perform out of self-love & -loathing
a glam murder-suicide, redundant
in action but not intention. This paisley loveseat's
the colors of blood & semen, and anyway
who would see him?—Aha, 
one hot girl hovered apart from the crowd
on the floor of the club, a superpowered girl,
caped in stealth, who turned everything she looked at
transparent, impossible to touch.
His hand went right thru himself.

Most peculiar. Anyway, on the topic of poems: Kathy & I have two collaborations in Hobart today: "Some Notes on Sex" and "Secrets to Achieving Intimacy." Also, I wrote a very brief piece against bananas for the food issue of The New Inquiry, but note that it's subscriber-only ($2 per issue).

Happy Hump Day.

UPDATE: Here is the poem I was talking about. It's by my friend Chad Reynolds. I knew it had to be either by someone famous or someone I know, because I had the feeling that I had read it many times. Turns out, I published it, though Issue 3 of Absent is apparently offline.

Victor at the Movies  
Images forcing themselves
on Victor, pressing against him 
is exactly what he came for,
this erasure of sense and self,  
suspension of disbelief—
it’s why he sinks lower  
into stadium seats: to be
buried in a cemetery of moving light,  
the coffin’s wall the screen….
Then the movie ends and there he is,  
walking back up the aisle
with empty bucket and cup—  
he’s died, but only a little,
and not enough.

As good as Berryman, I say.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

On the radio

Thank you to Amy Fladeboe for inviting me to be a part of her weekly podcast series on KMSU in Minnesota. You can download the MP3 here. I read a few poems from The French Exit and talk about where the name came from, how we (me and Birds LLC) put the book together, what a "blogpoem" is, "the fecund other," etc. Possibly not interesting to anyone but my mom. Incidentally:

  • Grobstein informs me that another term for a French exit is "sketch bounce." 500 years from now, when Modern English becomes Olde English, they'll have to add a footnote.
  • Where did the phrase "the fecund other" come from? Is it even a phrase? I heard Kathleen Rooney say it years ago and I think of it often, but Google suggests it's pretty obscure.
  • People always say they hate the sound of their own voice in recordings. I once read that it's because when you talk, you're picking up on vibrations in your own jaw which make your voice sound deeper and more resonant than it really is. I don't hate the sound of my voice at all, but it definitely doesn't sound like me to me. I think I sound younger and sweeter than I really am. So how come everyone thinks I'm a bitch, HM? They're hearing THAT person.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Pseudo-slurs and Oxford shirts

1. Is there a linguistic term for words, like "niggling" and "niggardly," that aren't slurs and never were but make everyone uncomfortable anyway? I'm keeping a mental list of these pseudo-slurs, between "Negroni" (my favorite cocktail) and "jigger" (also cocktail-related) and today's "fucknig" typo (which Gmail's spellcheck, for some unfathomable reason, wanted to correct to "McKnight").

2. Whenever I wear an Oxford shirt and jeans, John, without fail, tells me I look nice (even without the airbrushed cleavage). If I put on a plaid flannel, forget about it; it's like he falls in love with me all over again. This seems to be a well-kept secret. Fess up, fellas: Do you too have a fetish for a button-up shirt? (Not a "button-down" shirt, NB; that's a type of collar.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The topaz lanthorn-light

I love the first stanza of this poem, "Revelation" by Sir Edmund Gosse:   

INTO the silver night
She brought with her pale hand
The topaz lanthorn-light,
And darted splendour o'er the land;
Around her in a band,
Ringstraked and pied, the great soft moths came flying,
And flapping with their mad wings, fann'd
The flickering flame, ascending, falling, dying. 
Behind the thorny pink
Close wall of blossom'd may,
I gazed thro' one green chink
And saw no more than thousands may,—
Saw sweetness, tender and gay,—
Saw full rose lips as rounded as the cherry,
Saw braided locks more dark than bay,
And flashing eyes decorous, pure, and merry. 
With food for furry friends
She pass'd, her lamp and she,
Till eaves and gable-ends
Hid all that saffron sheen from me:
Around my rosy tree
Once more the silver-starry night was shining,
With depths of heaven, dewy and free,
And crystals of a carven moon declining. 
Alas! for him who dwells
In frigid air of thought,
When warmer light dispels
The frozen calm his spirit sought;
By life too lately taught
He sees the ecstatic Human from him stealing;
Reels from the joy experience brought,
And dares not clutch what Love was half revealing.

The great soft moths! Ringstraked and pied! I read it -- the first stanza only, several times -- in an old volume of English verse that was sitting in the upstairs bathroom at John's parents' house in Connecticut, and made a mental note to look it up again later. The rest of the poem doesn't do much for me, though it's hard not to be fond of the third stanza too, with its furry friends and saffron sheen and rosy tree.

(Edit: Just realized this poem is about a guy masturbating in the shrubbery. He "dares not clutch what Love was half revealing"? I'm sure!)

Monday, November 26, 2012

5 things that happened in the past 10 days

1. My latest essay on "The Poneme" went up at Lemon Hound (new issue with lots of good stuff). I wrote about Darcie Dennigan's mysterious use of ellipses in Madame X. Here's an excerpt from the essay, "Elliptical Machines":
The ellipsis is often used casually (in email, for instance) to indicate a pause or a trailing off. But technically it means “omission,” something excised or left out. And this is why ellipses can be frightening. What is being withheld? 
In Madame X, the ambiguity is doubled – it feels as though we’re receiving the message (via radio? a telegram? a Ouija board?) in bits and pieces, but it seems equally possible that the poet “received” it that way herself, that she is merely transcribing the poem, a la Jack Spicer’s “poetry as dictation,” wherein the poet records transmissions from an “invisible world.” Is she withholding something from us, or is something being withheld from her? 
Read my essay and read Darcie's book!

2. John and I watched this video about five times, until it started to become slightly less hilarious:

3. I saw the Art of Scent exhibit at the Museum of Art and Design in New York City on its opening day. I talked with Chandler Burr about the exhibit back in February of 2011, so perhaps I'd had too much time to build it up in my expectations, but I was mildly disappointed. The implementation was cool: It's an empty room with twelve indentations in the white wall. You step up to one of these indentations, lean over it, and a little nozzle at the bottom automatically sends up a wee puff of scent for you to breathe in. It's not the same formulation as perfume in a bottle, so your face doesn't get wet and the scents don't disperse into and mingle in the air. It's similar to the impression you get when passing someone on the street and catching a whiff of their sillage. Also cool: The descriptions of each scent on the wall fade in and out (they are provided by a light source, not printed directly on the wall) so you don't always know what you're smelling. Some of the reasons I found the exhibit a little weird/disappointing:
  • The indentations are shaped such that it kind of feels like you're sticking your face into a urinal. 
  • Because the context for each scent is so minimal, the experience is not very different from going into a Saks and sniffing 12 perfumes in a row, aside from the fact that Chandler Burr has "curated" which 12 perfumes he wants you to sniff. This made the $15 entry fee seem mildly exorbitant, though it gets you admission to the full museum, not just the perfume floor. Putting perfumes in a museum makes you experience them differently, yes, but most of the time, the art you see in a museum isn't accessible anywhere else. You're paying for an exclusive experience.
  • This effect was magnified because the 12 scents are all pretty commercial and all still in production. I imagine Burr was limited in his choices by which companies were willing to sponsor the exhibit. Still, a few of the choices seemed odd. Angel and Pleasures, though ubiquitous, were structurally groundbreaking. But Light Blue? The most perplexing choice to me was Prada Amber. Amber perfumes have been around forever, and Prada's version isn't even a very good amber.
  • Burr has claimed he is "completely opposed" to the "idiotic reductionism of works of olfactory art to their raw materials," but most of the descriptions of the scents include mention of raw materials (vanillin, aldehydes, dihydromercenol, galbanum). In any case, it is not unusual to discuss the materials used in other forms of art, if something interesting or innovative is being done with them.
I guess that the exhibit would be most interesting to people who have a passing interest in perfume, not aficionados and collectors like me, who have kinda smelled it all before, and don't need convincing that perfume is an art form.

4. I did karaoke at a real cowboy dive bar, Rocky Flats Lounge, which is between Golden and Boulder and across the street from a superfund site (our friend Katie has a tank top that says "I Got Nuclear Wasted at Rocky Flats"). This is me rocking out to "Wanted Dead or Alive" (I sort of want this to be my author photo):

And here's John, taking the Johnny Cash version of "Hurt" very seriously:

5. I won this goofy little web award from Westword, the alt weekly in Denver, for "Best Artist on Social Media." How did that happen?! And who said I'm an artist? Thank you to whoever nominated and declared me the winner. I'm excited and confused! 

I hope my American friends ate well and traveled safe. What have you all (international audience too) been up to?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


I have a poem up in the new issue of The Collagist: "After the Piano." My friend Tina is in it, as well as Rilke. My favorite part is the slant rhyme between "struggle" and "subtle"; my least favorite part is the ending. What about you?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Some thoughts on Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner

I sat on the couch with a book after dinner and read until I had finished it, something I hadn't done in long enough that I was starting to fear I was no longer a reader. The book was Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner, the perfect novel for this moment of my existence since it's about a literary type who either suspects himself or is in fact a fraud. It's the opposite of Catcher in the Rye: Holden is self-important and desperate to expose everyone around him as a phony; Adam Gordon (Lerner's protagonist, who, like Lerner, is a poet from Topeka spending a year abroad on fellowship) is constantly exposing himself as a phony, to us the readers if not his companions, toward whom he projects a carefully constructed persona, a man of few words because his thoughts are too complex to be expressed in a second language.

I loved reading this book, which is full of ideas about the self (the self!), about identity and worth, and funny enough that I was snickering like a jerk at nearly every page. Lerner is better known as a poet, but he's very at home in prose, and this is one of the few novels I've read that depicts the plight of the poet accurately, that precipice between potential and absurdity. (See Lucinella for another.) Because Leaving the Atocha Station takes place entirely in Madrid and its environs, where Adam is forced to speak less-than-fluent Spanish on a daily basis, usually while drunk and high, there is almost always a lovely doubling happening; Adam interprets most statements he hears as ambiguous and, rather than revealing his ignorance by asking for clarification, entertains all these options as possible simultaneously, so the world outside the space he immediately occupies hangs in quantum suspension. Too, language (and in parallel, experience itself) is always being interrogated, meta-analyzed: is it real? is it a mistranslation or misinterpretation? is it poetic pretension? is it cliche? is it the drugs talking?

Here's an example; in this scene, late in the novel, Adam is at a party with his friend, translator and would-be lover Teresa; his constructed reality is crumbling, and he has decided, uncharacteristically, to reveal self-doubt:
"You are the most graceful and protean person I know. The way you handed me the coffee right when I awoke or the way just now you took the tequila from me or, " I paused to think of an example not involving drinks, "the way you can move without apparent transition from your stylish apartment to a protest." 
"Why do you keep speaking to me in English?" she asked, with something like concern. 
I ignored the question and went on. "But I'm worried you're too cool for me, that you'll realize I'm in fact a fraud. An inelegant fraud. I won't be able to fool you and you'll get bored." As I said this, I thought it would be impossible to hide my pills from her. I had a sudden, involuntary memory of the Ritz. 
"All you're describing," she said in Spanish, "is the personality of a translator. From apartment to protest, from English to Spanish." If she had spoken in English, I would have found it a little grand; in Spanish I experienced it as profound. I wondered if she'd weighed the sentence in both languages before selecting the one that would produce the desired effect.
Teresa started to remove her clothes and for a second I thought she had lost her mind. But she had a swimsuit on underneath, and she left her clothes in a little pile and slipped noiselessly into the heated, lighted pool, as if to punctuate the ease with which she could move between media.
I like how Lerner does exactly what you're not supposed to do there, explaining the symbolism of the image. It's more true to his protagonist, to articulate the meaning to himself and bask for a moment in its resonance, the last refuge of the lonely poet. It's also, paradoxically, less arrogant: creating an opportunity for the reader to recognize a symbol belies a kind of projected satisfaction. By making it explicit, Lerner removes the possibility of any readers being left out of the joke.

My only real reservation was about the ending, which was too redeeming and feel-good to be truly satisfying, as if to imply that after embodying failure for 175 pages, Adam (and presumably, a younger Lerner) could emerge fully formed and suddenly at ease with himself. I also disliked his tic-like use of the phrase "a wave of X washed over me," which was usually euphoria and usually small; though the book has many intentional repetitions, this one lacked resonance or meaningful intention. Still, a wonderful first novel and handy guidebook for the fragile ego of the overachiever.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Mini-Reviews: Spice Girls (and a Spice Boy)

SOIVOHLE Rosa sur Reuse – I love Liz Zorn’s work, so when I saw that this relatively recent composition was getting lots of love on the blogs, I had to have some, rose (rosa) and tuberose (tubereuse) being my favorite floral notes. I bought a small bottle unsniffed while she was running a special, and I’ve been trying to figure it out ever since. Zorn has an uncanny knack for re-creating smells from my childhood: Sonoran Leather smells like gunpowder, like a skeet club in the desert of New Mexico where I spent many afternoons in the early 80s; Meerschaum reminds me powerfully of my dad, of old work gloves and man-hobbies like hunting and car repair. Oddly enough, RsR too recalls my Southwestern youth – there’s something about the combination of fiery cinnamon, fruity-sweet raspberry-rose, and creamy tuberose absolute (which can smell mentholated, woody, or even meaty depending on which aspects you play up) that results in a tamale accord. I know! It’s crazy, but I swear in the top notes, Rosa sur Reuse smells like Hot Tamales two ways – like Red Hots, like Goldschläger, but also like corn masa and red chile. However, this is one of those classically structured perfumes that changes a lot over time. Eventually it ends up feeling like a variation on Feminite du Bois (see below) or the closely related Poussiere de Rose from Parfums de Rosine: creamy cedar, warm spice, and soft fruit. But for the first few hours, it’s one of those rare perfumes that doesn’t smell like any other perfume out there.

Parfums DelRae Bois de Paradis – One of the first perfumes dear Elizabeth shared with me was a hefty sample of Bois de Paradis, which I emptied to write this review. I remember that the first time I wore it a couple of years ago, I was gravely disappointed, because it was a beautiful warm, sunny day and BdP is definitely a winter perfume. I haven’t made that mistake again, and it’s lovely on cold, crisp days when coziness is in order. Bois de Paradis is basically Christmas potpourri in perfume form – it smells like a spiced warm punch my family used to make in a crock pot for holiday gatherings, a combination of apple cider, cranberry juice and mulling spices. What differentiates it from all the other cinnamon-spicy woody scents out there (Feminite du Bois and friends) is the berry note – there’s a bit of Byredo Pulp in here. I love tart fruit notes, blackcurrant in particular, and it gives the whole composition a bracing freshness, such that I think of this as a scent for frosty days rather than nights. Can’t you just see a cardinal alighting on the snow-dusted holly bush? I thought so.

By the way, the last few milliliters I was hanging onto smell slightly less magenta-bright and slightly more spicy-dusty (a bit like old Christmas decorations kept in a wooden chest) in the top notes than I remember, so it’s worth noting that this one might degrade a bit over time (or we can blame it on the plastic purse spray). In any case it all evens out in the drydown, which smells like berries and vanilla. This is a good one and I’m sorry to see it go. Perhaps more will find its way into my life.

Viktor & Rolf Spicebomb – Spicebomb was released earlier this year as the male counterpart to 2004’s Flowerbomb. The truth about Flowerbomb is that I never remember what it smells like, beyond it being sweet in a post-Angel, post-Hanae Mori way, but it’s not as jolie-laide as Angel or as beautiful as Hanae Mori. Cute rarely cuts it with me, and I can only assume it owes its continued popularity to the existence of a large number of women who want something slightly less recognizable than Coco Mademoiselle. Thankfully, Spicebomb smells nothing like Flowerbomb, and nothing like most other mainstream masculines on the market, which tend to be abrasively "fresh." Despite the name, it’s not really a spice bomb. Instead it’s a gently spicy tobacco fragrance with a niche-y heritage, reminding me of L’Artisan Tea for Two, though not as aggressively BBQ-smoky, and even a little of Serge Lutens Chergui, though not as rich as all that. Basically it smells like leathery gingerbread, and what’s not to like about that? It's definitely not so great as to unseat my all-time favorite tobacco frangrance, Laurie Erickson's Tabac Aurea – it commits the same flaw as a lot of mainstream fragrances I like, making use of some synthetic material that causes it to smell less delicious up close and on skin than it does on paper, mostly in the top notes. Once it settles in it’s got a lovely almond-vanilla vibe which must be due to tonka bean (see also Midnight in Paris). Considering the source, I was fairly blown away.

Parfumerie Generale Un Crime Exotique – Parfumerie Generale is known for its gourmands, and Un Crime Exotique (sent my way by Ines – aren’t perfume bloggers just the most generous people in the world?) is a complex gourmand that pairs a burning hot cinnamon note with the smell of fruity tea (osmanthus). The effect is almost piercing – there’s a vaguely uncomfortable, metallic edge to this fragrance. I suppose the titular “exotic crime” is the act of stabbing someone and then drowning them in molten honey. There’s also something doughy about this, especially in the drydown, like hot glazed doughnuts. I should admit, at this point, that spice notes are tricky for me – they can get overbearing really quickly, reminding me of Dentyne and scented candles. Clove seems especially easy to overdo, and I like it best when it’s the subtlest accent (as in the aforementioned Tabac Aurea). The dosing on the pumpkin pie spice in Un Crime Exotique edges just past wearable for me. If I want a festive eggnog perfume, I prefer the balance of citrus, spice, and creamy notes in Roucel’s Oro for Roberto Cavalli.

Shiseido Feminite du Bois – My decant of the original Shiseido version of FdB, now housed by Serge Lutens, comes via another kindred spirit, Alyssa Harad (whose name, by the way, rhymes with mine, and not the way you think). When you smell all the variations it spawned, something always leaps out as a little funky – Dior Dolce Vita, which I love, is both sweeter and somehow sweaty; Kenzo Jungle L’Elephant has more clove plus a weird buttery note. But Feminite du Bois is a smooth, balanced whole; it seems calm and assured in itself – a perfume with perfect posture. If, like me, you always think spicy fragrances smell like candles, this is a great lesson in the potential of the genre. It’s not a gourmand; the cinnamon is there, and the “dried plum” (we don’t call them prunes anymore, don’t you know), but it doesn’t smell like cinnamon-raisin bread. FdB, or “femininity of wood,” really is about the wood. My favorite part is the musky, animalic growl of the drydown; it’s somehow fuzzy. Along with Belle en Rykiel and Incense Rose, this is one of my top comfort picks for airplane travel, on the cuffs of a cozy sweater. Yes, I wear perfume on the plane. Suck it, haters.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Adding on vs. taking away

I think of myself as living a pretty healthy lifestyle, far from perfect but probably in the 90% percentile of Americans. But I just realized something about myself: I'm rarely willing to give something up, for health reasons alone, that brings me pleasure, but I'm perfectly willing to adopt new practices that might improve my health.

For example, take my diet. I eat very few processed foods -- stuff like packaged cookies and crackers, frozen meals, processed bread, even cereal -- partly because a lot of them make me sick, but also because, even when they're gluten-free, I genuinely don't enjoy them. So it's no chore to "give them up." If I want a cheap and quick meal, I'd much rather make a salad or some eggs. But then there's sugar. I know sugar is bad for you, but I get so much pleasure out of having a little sugar every day (always in my coffee, and usually a bit in some other form during the day, like a piece of candy) I'm unwilling to give it up. Same goes for alcohol, my only other real vice (unless you count rampant consumerism). A little alcohol is good for you, sure, but I regularly go past the one-glass-a-day required for added longevity. After being overweight, drinking regularly is the biggest single risk factor for breast cancer. But I get so much pleasure out of it, I'm unwilling to give it up. As for smoking and other drugs: I never had any desire to use them in the first place. So I can hardly be considered virtuous for abstaining.

On the other hand, I'll happily add new foods to my diet because I know they're good for me. I always buy the eggs with extra omega-3 now, and I try to buy some kind of super-green every week (as in kale and friends ... truth be told I think kale is a pain to prepare, but John loves it). I started taking vitamin D in the morning because I read that's when you get the most benefit out of it and that it helps you sleep. I even tried doing the standing-desk thing for a while, though I fell out of the habit when I changed desk setups. All in all, adding on seems like a better bet -- if it works, great, and if it doesn't, it didn't actually detract from my life in any significant way. (If it did, I'd stop doing it.) But when you give up things you love, you run the chance of dying young anyway. And what's the point of living to 100 if you're not having a good time?

I guess another way of saying this is, I'm pretty good at forming new habits, but bad at breaking old ones.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Negative voting

I think it would be cool if you could elect to cast a negative vote instead of a positive vote. For example, you could vote -1 for Romney instead of +1 for Obama, effectively taking one of Romney's votes away. It seems to me there are a lot of people who don't fully support Obama or his platform, but at the same time acknowledge that Romney would be worse. In general it would be interesting as a sort of "hate index," and we could observe that a candidate lost due to a large number of negative votes, which would be different from losing a close race due to slightly fewer positive votes. What do you think?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

My 50 favorite words

Because it'll take me a while to figure out my 50 books, here are 50 favorite words, as they came to me:
  1. Profound
  2. Inscrutable
  3. Insofar
  4. Nevertheless
  5. Chandelier 
  6. Cantilever 
  7. Concertina
  8. Chiffonade
  9. Heuristic
  10. Pristine
  11. Uncanny
  12. Unheimlich 
  13. Nemesis 
  14. Mnemonic 
  15. Mumblecore 
  16. Thundersnow 
  17. Miserable
  18. Syncope
  19. Busker 
  20. Tether 
  21. Tessellate 
  22. Quean 
  23. Pompadour
  24. Ottoman
  25. Pretty
  26. Gritty
  27. Glittery
  28. Jammy
  29. Glossy
  30. Cherry
  31. Poppy
  32. Spritz 
  33. Fuzz
  34. Happenstance
  35. Boulevard
  36. Silhouette 
  37. Rook 
  38. Foxy 
  39. Fix
  40. Decoy
  41. Koi 
  42. Joy
  43. Lexicon
  44. Horizon 
  45. Meniscus 
  46. Shimmering   
  47. Capacious
  48. Delirious 
  49. Oblique
  50. Mystique 
This is a delight. I could easily name 50 more.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

50 Books

John made a list of his 50 favorite books published since 1976 (the year of his birth). Here are the rules as he laid them out:
No anthologies, no reissues of classics, no multi-author books, no translations, and I could not, under any circumstances, have known the author before I cracked their book. And no fibbing.  Since 1976, in order of publication: 
1) Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal (1976)
2) A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul (1979)
3) Mulligan Stew by Gilbert Sorrentino (1979)
4) About Looking, by John Berger (1980)
5) Housekeeping, by Marilyn Robinson (1980)
6) Earthly Powers, by Anthony Burgess (1980)
7) Notes from Echo Lake by Michael Palmer (1981)
8) Camera Lucida, by Roland Barthes (1981)
9) Teaching a Stone to Talk, by Annie Dillard (1982)
10) Glass, Irony, and God, by Anne Carson (1983)
11) The Well-Tempered Sentence, by Karen Elizabeth Gordon (1983)
12) The Assault by Harry Mulisch (1985)
13) You’ve Had Your Time, by Anthony Burgess (1985)
14) Cassell’s History of English Literature, by Peter Conrad (1985)
15) Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry (1986)
16) Dancer from the Dance by Andrew Holleran (1986)
17) Bill Knott: Poems 1963-1988 (1988)
18) Tomas Transtromer’s Selected Poems 1954-1988 (1988)
19) The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien (1990)
20) The Widening Spell of the Leaves, by Larry Levis (1991)
21) The United States, by Gore Vidal (1992)
22) The Designated Mourner, by Wallace Shawn (1995)
23) The Collected Stories of Evan S. Connell (1995)
24) American Visions, by Robert Hughes (1995)
25) A Green History of the World, by Clive Ponting (1995)
26) Emerson: Mind on Fire, by Robert Richardson (1995)
27) Let it Bleed by Gary Indiana (1996)
28) The Three-Arched Bridge by Ismail Kadare (1997)
29) Byzantium: The Early Centuries, by John Julius Norwich (1989)
30) King Leopold’s Ghost, by Adam Hochschild (1998)
31) Diminutive Revolutions, by Daniel Bouchard (1999)
32) Africa: a Biography, by John Reader (1999)
33) Collected Poems of James Merrill (2001)
34) The Eternal Frontier, by Tim Flannery (2001)
35) A Tortoise for the Queen of Tonga, by Julia Whitty (2002)
36) Europe Central, William Vollmann (2002)
37) My Life, by Lyn Hejinian (2002)
38) The Hermit’s Story, by Rick Bass (2002)
39) Rising Up and Rising Down, by William Vollmann (2003)
40) We Need to Talk Abut Kevin, by Lionel Shriver (2003)
41) The Name of War, by Jill Lapore (2003)
42) Enlightening the World by Philip Blom (2004)
43) Mothers and Other Monsters by Maureen McHugh (2005)
44) Light, by M. John Harrison (2007)
45) Quinnehtukqut by Joshua Harmon (2007)
46) Love and Obstacles by Aleksandar Hemon (2009)
47) NixonLand by Rick Pearlstein (2009)
48) Calendar of Regrets, by Lance Olsen (2010)
49) Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power by Robert Caro (2012)
50) Collected Poems of W.S Merwin (2013)
I think the "no fibbing" rule is there so he wouldn't feel compelled to make the list perfectly representative of all genders, races, and cultures and therefore beyond reproach. But I find it to be impressively diverse in any case; John reads widely in many genres and the above list includes novels, short story collections, biographies, history and art history, poetry, sci fi, lit theory ... if I were to create a list of my 50 favorite books published since 1979, it would be mostly novels with a few nonfiction and poetry books thrown in. (I don't have many favorite books of poetry, but I do have favorite poems.) 

So what would be on my list? I'll be thinking about it. And speaking of birth years, I've got two days left of being 32.

Friday, October 26, 2012

My life as a troll

I had a conversation with a friend yesterday about Twitter and he told me that he sometimes hides my tweets. I asked him what governs it, and he said he hides me when I start "trolling" and then he'll start to miss me so he'll unhide me again. I was like, "What?! I don't troll!" and he said something like "Oh you know, when you make really provocative statements just to get a reaction." Huh. I wasn't offended, but I was surprised. I don't feel like I MPSJTGAR (Make Provocative Statements Just to Get a Reaction), but maybe trolls don't feel like trolls either?

Does everyone go through periods when they hate themselves? I don't hate myself, but I have sudden insight into why some people hate me. In Houston, I had a flash of memory about my brother telling me something a mutual "friend" of ours had said (looking back, I guess we weren't really friends); he said, to my brother, "Your sister has all your worst qualities, only more so." I think he meant self-righteousness. I thought it was funny at the time, and I still think it's funny, but it also makes me ... not sad exactly, but wistful. Thank god I had the obliviousness of youth on my side, so I didn't walk around with the crushing knowledge that a lot of people had, shall we say, reservations about me. Another mutual friend once said that my Indian name would be "She who gets too much attention."

I've become obsessed with the fallout (ha ha, ugh) from the "Yellow Rain" segment of Radiolab. I haven't even listened to it yet, the original or the edited version, but I'm experiencing some extreme form of self-righteous (natch) indignation and schadenfreude just reading the angry comments on the Radiolab site, as well as Matt Salesses's essay on the segment, its failure as storytelling and as good science (good scientists don't begin with a foregone conclusion). This is the second time that NPR has taken a highly charged topic (the other being factory conditions in China) and totally botched it with a format that is just quintessentially not built to handle such serious and controversial material. I know it's not fair, but I'm just utterly convinced that the segment was racist and sexist. I asked a younger coworker, who is Taiwanese, what he thought, and he seemed very placid and neutral. I told him "You need to work up some more world rage!" Some rules of thumb for adult life: When in doubt, assume the guy is hitting on you, and assume almost everything is racist and sexist.

In less depressing news, I loved this interview with Dita von Teese in which she talks about her beauty routines and beauty in general:
I loved selling makeup, I hated doing makeovers…but I had a theory: when I was doing people’s makeup I would always—and this always worked for selling—look at them, study how their makeup was done, and I’d do it the exact same way. [Laughs] Hopefully a little better, or change a little something. I discovered early on that people have their ‘drag’… and very few people really, truly want to stray from it. Generally, and I include myself in this, I have my drag and I don’t want to anyone messing with it. I remember when I was little, I was watching the Phil Donahue show or something—that shows how old I am—and they were doing makeovers and they took all these ladies that had been wearing the same makeup for 20 years—you know, the green eye shadow, red lips, bouffant red hairdo, that type of lady. These were ladies who had never had their hair and makeup done any other way. I remember seeing the final makeovers and I was so devastated by how boring they made these women look…and how they looked kind of deflated, kind of disappointed, like they didn’t want to be made-over. Don’t take a lady’s green eye shadow away. 
I pencil my mole in a little, but it’s tattooed now; I had it tattooed when I was 21. I went to a famous rockabilly tattoo parlor down in Orange County, and I actually wanted to have him do it in a heart or a star, and the guy was like, ‘There’s no way I’m putting a heart or a star on your face.’ Thank God he said that. [Laughs] He said he would only do a dot, thankfully.

Confidence is the important thing with beauty, mostly. It’s really about doing what you believe is beautiful. I feel most beautiful when I have my red lips on and when I have my cat eyeliner on and my hair curled—that’s what I feel good in, even though lots of people will see me with straight hair and no makeup on, and they’ll say I look so much younger. I don’t really care, though. I don’t care if they think I look prettier without the makeup and hair—it’s about what makes you feel good about yourself. I like having makeup on; I like the discipline it requires.
The confidence thing is a platitude I suppose, but it's the "I don't care" angle that I love. People always think you are doing things to please them, and that's why they try to get you to change. I mean, if you want to make people happy, there are probably better ways to do it than with your haircolor. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Conversations about cats

J: speaking of cats, Fry ran away. He's been gone for a week and they've given up hope. They seem to be handling it pretty well, though...

Me: oh how sad!!! Fry was the one I liked? seemed like they were pretty bored with having cats anyway.... :(

J: Yeah, Fry was the cute one (i.e. not the fat one). They're dealing with their grief by deriding Cooper. "Of the two of them we had to lose Fry! Look at Cooper: he's so dumb. I mean just look at that blank stare. We could leave the door open all day and he wouldn't even want to check it out." I think they're pretty done.

Me: hahaha! how sad. maybe he'll die of a broken heart.

J: Heart attack maybe, but he seems pretty oblivious.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Proust questionnaire

Your favorite virtue (of your own) 

Consistency in morality; valuing actions over words and goodness over politeness.

Your favorite qualities in a man

Confidence without arrogance (or with minimal arrogance). (“PARTY TIP: A real man is masculine and feminine.”)

Your favorite qualities in a woman


Your chief characteristic 

Self-assurance? [sic]

What you appreciate the most in your friends

Loyalty. “Unconditional like.”

Your main fault

Stubbornness. Followed by lack of ambition.

Your favorite occupation


Your idea of happiness

Laughter in the company of old friends.

Your idea of misery

Being betrayed. Or guilt over having betrayed.

If not yourself, who would you be?

Like me but richer.

Where would you like to live?

New York, but with Denver’s weather and cost of living.

Your favorite color

Shades of red and blue.

Your favorite flower

Lilies and tuberose.

Your favorite bird

Hawks and crows.

Your favorite prose writers

Kazuo Ishiguro, Joy Williams.

Your favorite poets.

Wallace Stevens, Anne Carson.

Your favorite hero in fiction

Calvin (of Calvin & Hobbes)

Your favorite heroine in fiction

Scarlett O'Hara

Your favorite painters

The abstract expressionists.

Your favorite composers

The Russians.

Your heroes in real life


Your favorite food and drink

Food: Tomato sauce, chilaquiles, enchiladas, poached eggs, pizza, sushi. Drink: Wine, Campari.

Your favorite names

Georgia, Annick, Adam, Sasha (for a boy).

What you hate the most


The military event you admire the most


The gift of nature you would like to have

Musical talent.

How you want to die

By meteorite.

Your present state of mind


Faults for which you have the most indulgence


Your favorite motto

“Luck is a skill.”

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Mini-Reviews: M.Micallef Art Collection Vanille

Full disclosure: Samples of the below fragrances were sent to me by M.Micallef.

M.Micallef Vanille Orient – Probably my favorite of the four new vanilla-centric scents from M.Micallef, Vanille Orient is not, as the name might suggest, a complex, classically structured oriental with a bergamot top note and a floral heart. Instead it’s a very simple woody vanilla perfume, along the lines of Un Bois Vanille from Serge Lutens but lighter and less smoky – or, if you prefer, like Kate Walsh Boyfriend without the patchouli. When I first sampled it, it seemed quite nice, like a version of Gaiac, an older scent from the same line, with more creamy vanilla. The problem emerges when you wear them side by side: Gaiac is just a better perfume, richer and fuller and more balanced. There’s vanilla there, but it’s in perfect balance with the resins; the overall effect is of a spicy amber, like a slice from the end of Ormond Jayne Woman, or a sweeter version of YSL Nu. Next to Gaiac, Vanilla Orient feels like it’s missing some notes on the base end (too much treble). It also feels like they tried to dry it out with a woody amber, i.e. a smidge of chemical headache. Again, when I tried it on its own I liked it, so there’s nothing really wrong with it per se, and if you love vanilla and hate amber you might prefer it. But I’d go for Gaiac every time (it also happens to be cheaper on a per-ml basis, which can’t possibly be due to the cost of materials).

M.Micallef Vanille Cuir – Much stranger and more complex than Vanille Orient, Vanille Cuir comes out of the gate with a floral leather accord that is creamy-sweet with vanilla and musk and, at the same time, bitter-acerbic with bergamot and lavender. There’s also a cool, almost metallic touch of mint, like that chilly vanilla-mint aroma you get in the back of your mouth from white Tic-Tacs. If you think of smells in terms of music, it’s high-pitched; if you think in terms of color, it’s pale, like chamois. The leather is present throughout, as is a soapy note of orange blossom. It took me a while to figure out what Vanille Cuir reminds me of, but it hit me an hour or two into my first wear: The base is similar to Putain de Palaces, AKA Hotel Hooker from Etat Libre d’Orange. After completely different openings (PdP’s is a trashy-sweet, retro rose-violet accord), they both end up in the same bizarre union of creamy, sweet, and animalic, like Dove soap and a raunchy armpit all at once. Like Putain de Palaces, this is both fascinating and a little gross. Definitely worth trying if you love weird leathers.

M.Micallef Vanille Fleur – More like Vanilla Fruity! It’s not that this isn’t floral, but the fruity (banana-like) aspects of ylang are what you mostly notice, and it’s got a huge tropical fruit note to boot, creamy and a little funky – the notes list peach, but I smell a gargantuan mango. It’s overdosed to the point of being medicinal. Vanille Fleur is far too sweet for me in the initial stages, and commits the ultimate sin of a niche fragrance, as far as I’m concerned – namely, it doesn’t smell expensive. It kind of smells like a scented lotion you’d get from Bath & Body Works. To be clear, I really, really didn't like it. In fact, I scrubbed it off and gave away my sample, so this review is based on one partial wear. YMMV. For a vanilla floral done right, see By Kilian Sweet Redemption.

M.Micallef Vanille Marine – This is the one of the four I was most afraid to sample, because marine notes can be really disgusting – see L’Eau d’Issey, which I wore in high school; 12 years later I realized it smells like industrial cleaning solvents. Even natural seaweed absolute, as in MCMC’s Maine, turns my stomach. But the marine element here is quite subtle and fleeting, a far-off whiff of a chlorinated pool. If there’s Calone in here (the melon-y, aqua-blue smell in the aforementioned L’Eau d’Issey as well as CK One, the original Escape and other ‘90s clichés), it’s in minuscule amounts. Instead, it’s a soft fruity floral in the style of Pink Sugar Sensual, a pink-lemonade-and-cupcakes scent for sexy tweens that, I’m not ashamed to say, I bought a bottle of for next to nothing at TJ Maxx. This makes sense because the top notes are lemon and blackcurrant. But Vanille Marine does have a slightly salty-savory edge, which reminds me of celery (vetiver?) more than the sea. Over time that aspect fades and it just smells like a bare fruity floral. There’s nothing horribly wrong here except that, once again, it doesn’t smell expensive in the slightest.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Regression/confession session

* Not to be like that girl in junior high who complained about having too many potential dates to the dance, but sometimes I wish I were good at less things. What I mean is, wouldn't it be better to focus my energies in one area, and really excel at it, instead of just having these 75% hobbies? But I think the only reason I feel this way is because I'm constantly saturated in media and it creates pressure to be an entrepreneur, so I feel like I should stop screwing around and start a real blog, like a fancy blog on a paid domain with a single topic and SEO it up and take real pictures with a good camera and monetize it and so forth. I mean isn't that how you get a book deal, by proving there is an audience slavering for your smoky-eye vids and DIY body scrub recipes? I'm sure this is just a phase; I was just in Houston hanging out with old college buddies and most of them make more money than me. What's funny, though, not ha-ha-funny but sad funny, is that my brother easily makes twice as much as me and he obsesses about why he isn't worth more too. By the way, this is us, at Goode Company Tacqueria getting a Tex-Mex-brex on Sunday:

* I normally hate cutesy shit (I recently vowed on Twitter that my next book will be devoid of cuteness), but lately all I want to wear is Pink Sugar Sensual, which smells like pink lemonade and cupcakes. Then there was that whole crayon thing. What's going on?

* I enjoyed the debates tonight, not just because Obama was present and holding Mitt accountable, but because the other half of the country was finally addressed (the ones who don't have pensions penises).

* Here are some random lines from the poans (koan-poems) I've been writing over the last few months:
I love when men say the word pretty.
I told myself, “Be thankful for your enemies; they make you more yourself.”
But what if the truth isn’t elegant?

I rarely transgress in a dream; I dream of the guilt that follows transgression.

Time moves so fast I want it to move faster. 
My dream life has its own past, memories I only access when asleep.

But shame, a friend told me, can be comforting. 
Adulthood is knowing that someone is watching, an increasing sensation of things being fixed.

I have a Post-It on my desk that says BE AN ACTIVIST.
The only way past is through.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Mini-reviews: Underwear Perfume

Lingerie stores love to sell perfumes, and probably rake in tons of dough from impulse counter buys – the woman who buys herself expensive matching bras and panties that must be washed by hand is generally looking for a package deal, a head-to-toe sexpot-in-a-box experience. And perfume is part of that glamorous package; I bet lipsticks would go like hot cakes too. Even better, it's a way for the stores to find customers in people who want in on the fantasy but don't see themselves actually wearing the lingerie. When we were far too young to buy the push-up bras, my friends and I would still go into Victoria's Secret to smell all the lotions and gels and things.

These days, the VS fragrances are mostly complete trash, a step or two down from Bath & Body Works in quality, but several high-end lingerie lines have some pretty great offerings in the perfume department. Here are a few of the ones I've tried (I can't speak for any of their underthings, I'm afraid).

Fifi Chachnil: I had never heard of this perfume until a few weeks ago, when someone in a blog comment somewhere named it as their favorite rose perfume. For some reason the name stuck with me, and when I had to place an order at Surrender to Chance for some decanting supplies, I put a sample of Fifi Chachnil in my cart as well. Rose and tobacco are two of my favorite notes; what could go wrong?

The perfume lovers among you know it can always go very wrong indeed, but this one doesn't. However, I wouldn't classify it as a rose perfume myself. The top notes smell briefly and classically of bergamot and baby powder, but the next thirty minutes or so are dominated by a certain aromachemical I've been smelling in a lot of things lately, which I strongly suspect is Safraleine. According to Givaudan, "Safraleine exhibits warm, powerful, leathery and tobacco facets but its complexity also reveals characteristics of spices reminiscent of natural saffron, enriched by rose ketone-like floral aspects." (Just the other day, John was lamenting his students' tendency to overuse words like "aspect" in their papers.) Those facets 'n' aspects are all present and accounted for here, and it's certainly a complex and interesting smell, but it's not one I particularly like. More than "saffron" or "leather" or "oud" as it's sometimes designated, I get a chemical effect that brings to mind shoe polish and refrigerated air. Luckily, the perfumer didn't just dilute this stuff with alcohol and say, "Look! I made a fragrance!" (the impression I got from Bond No. 9's Harrods Amber). Rather, Fifi is fuzzed out with florals (more orange blossom than rose, to this schnoz; at times it's a little soapy) and spices (a coriander note that's softly peppery and a bit sharp) and a very nice, powdery tobacco accord with a long drydown.

Most reviews of this fragrance say it's super-femme, but I wonder if they aren't swayed by the incredibly silly pink pinup boudoir bottle. I find leather and tobacco notes, like wingtips and mustaches, to be masculine in almost any context, and though this is sweet and pretty I think a guy could pull it off if he so desired. From a distance, the impression is not unlike my vintage Shalimar – a powdery floriental with a smoker's cough.

Natori: Natori EDP, which comes in a lovely modern bottle that's kind of half Orientalist, half sci-fi, is a rather strange, abstract perfume; no one note stands out as particularly legible. It opens with a noticeable dose of aldehydes, giving it that throwback cloudy "This is perfume" smell, then it settles into a low hum of a fragrance, with a honeyed, boozy feel like fruit stewed in wine, and enough leftover aldehydes and synthetic musky, woody notes to call to mind the air in a dressing room after women have done their hair. It's sweet, warm, and vaguely intimate, somewhere between (the reformulated) Rochas Femme and Hanae Mori Magical Moon, but more age-appropriate, in my case, than either. It's more sultry than all-out bombshell, which seems to suit the brand.

Agent Provocateur: Expectations are, if not everything, powerful stuff. When I originally sampled and reviewed this perfume, a few years ago, I thought it was amusingly prim and proper for a lingerie company. And when you first put it on, it is: a green, even uptight geranium-rose with a chypre backbone and a big saffron-coriander top section that verges on sour. But wait ... for the drydown. This gets much darker and dirtier with a few hours of wear; the base feels very lived-in, a long-lasting skin-like musk plus vetiver and earthy patchouli. It loosens up but never gets sweet, so the effect is kind of mean-sexy. This is older than the above fragrances by a good 5 to 10 years and probably served as inspiration, given the similar note lists. Not for everyone, and doesn't work in every season, but I've come to think of it as a contemporary classic.

Agent Provocateur Strip: Some flankers offer a simple twist on the original, while others share almost nothing but the name. This flanker, which is no longer in production, veers pretty far from Agent Provocateur. But like the original, it seems designed to scare off half the people who might pick it up. It goes on dark and medicinal with an incredibly mentholated patchouli note up-front, rendered further minty with geranium, and reminding me of some ancient lotion that my grandparents used to keep on their bedside table. After ten minutes or so the stink-waves begin to burn off and I get a subtle fruitiness, which smells more like the fruity "aspects" of vanilla beans than fruit per se, and a whiff of cherry tobacco. It's animalic in a way that reminds me of the oily leather in Histoires de Parfums 1740 (the Marquis de Sade one), but less aggressively so. Eventually you end up with a musky amber, very nice and very comfortable but not as unusual as the drydown of AP. Strip smells more like a niche masculine than a mainstream feminine, so I can't say I'm shocked it was discontinued. My skin seems to amp up certain kinds of patchouli, making them go all barnyard (on paper, the balance between the patchouli and geranium is more apparent, and I see the link to AP more clearly), and accordingly this is one of those fragrances I'd probably rather smell on someone else, preferably a dude with a beard.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Live-tweeting The Shining

Because #2K1 was so fun, Sommer and I are organizing another live-tweet. And this time, it's spoo-OO-ooky!

Many of you told me this is the scariest movie you've ever seen. Well, IT'S TIME TO FACE YOUR FEARS.

Fine print: You will need to rent or own the movie to play. Start on time to be NSYNC. Use hashtag #redrum (shorter and better than our original plan for #TheShining). See you on Twitter!

Friday, October 5, 2012

This is the scariest movie I've ever seen

John made me watch this movie years ago and it scared the living crap out of me. The trailer alone is killing me.

What's the scariest movie YOU'VE ever seen?

By the way, Sommer and I are planning another live-tweet for the end of the month, with a Halloween theme! Stay tuned ...

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Mini-Reviews: Considering the Lilies

John recently bought me a bunch of lilies (my favorite!), big magenta lilies with brown-black spots inside like banana seeds. Even when lilies aren't white, they have a white floral profile, smelling perfumey initially and in snatches but, like tuberose and gardenia, displaying all sorts of weird facets that aren't floral at all. Fresh lilies start off smelling waxy and rubbery, a little like latex, which is interesting because their petals are waxy. The longer they sit cut on your counter, the more they start to smell meaty. If tuberose has notes of rotting chicken, the meat in lilies is more appetizing, with a briny, smoky, cured smell like ham or salami, but without letting go of the slightly plasticky, rubbery smell. So right now, on their third day, these deep-pink lilies smell like a perfect cross between high-end cold cuts and the inside of a tent. Tarpaulin sandwich!

My favorite lily fragrance, and one of my favorite perfumes period, is Donna Karan Gold. (Once again, Calice Becker FTW.) Here are a few more I've tried recently:

Serge Lutens Un Lys: Musk and vanilla always seem to play a part in a fresh lily accord. This presents a problem when the musk gets a little too fresh and starts to smell like laundry detergent, a fate that Cartier Baiser Vole doesn't manage to avoid. (DK Gold, for the record, sidesteps this problem with its salty amber base; the resins serve as a cloak so you're never subjected to naked musk.) At first, Un Lys smells like a more expensive and more controlled version of Baiser Vole – but eventually (inevitably?) it too succumbs to a flat, sweet, clean muskiness (owing to that certain lavender-gray musk I hate so much) with none of the weird complexity of lilies. Et tu, Lutens?

Ineke Gilded Lily: For Gilded, read Gourmand. And for Lily, read Patchouli. This reminds me of nothing so much as Bond No. 9 New Haarlem, which reminds me of nothing so much as maple syrup. In other words, I'm getting immortelle, big time. Which of course isn't listed among the notes (pineapple, rhubarb, grapefruit, elemi, Goldband lily, patchouli, oakmoss and labdanum). But then, it's not listed in the notes for New Haarlem, either (patchouli, lavender, vanilla, coffee, cedar and bergamot). Immortelle, real or imagined, aside, I smell citrus and a slightly spicy, ambery patchouli, but this doesn't read as "lily" to me; it lacks that tactile freshness. It's interesting I suppose, but nowhere even close to comparable to DK Gold in quality, and as a weird gourmand, not really as good as New Haarlem either.

Yosh Stargazer: Compared to Gilded Lily, Yosh Stargazer smells decidedly floral, but it still doesn't really smell like lilies. After a complex few minutes that hint at the prickliness of indoles, this sinks into a purple, lilac-like sweetness that is almost grapey, like some jasmine accords (see Alien for the best example). And it just gets sweeter and more syrupy with time. Weird like British candy.

Frederic Malle Lys Mediterranee: Finally: lilies! More than any other lily perfume I've tried, Lys Mediterrannee actually capitalizes on the meaty odor of lilies, and the central accord here is like floral baloney. In his review of this fragrance, Luca Turin remarked on "that strange sensation that lilies give that the smell is about to fall apart into its component parts any minute." I'd go a step further and say that the smell of lilies always is falling apart into components, reassembling itself and then falling apart again, and this perfume reenacts that, much more so than Un Lys or Baiser Vole, which smell like a static sketch of a lily, not a living flower. All that said: I find that a number of perfumes in the Frederic Malle line are "too perfect," the way a woman can be too perfect to be truly attractive, and I'd put Lys Mediterranee in that category. It broadcasts excellence, it undeniably smells expensive. But it's just so on the nose. It doesn't feel personal or lived in. This is what I want to smell in a hotel lobby, more than on my skin. Still, beautifully instructive and necessary. Note that as it dries down, the dreaded lily musk begins to show through – a smell I'm starting to feel on my tongue, like the burn you get from eating too many Sour Patch Kids.