Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Where Were You When Songs

While we're on the topic of music: What are the songs that you remember hearing for the first time? As in you remember where you were, what you were doing, who you were with, what you were feeling? Here are a few of mine:

"She Has No Time" by Keane - Pip just sang a song from Keane's first album on The Voice (hosing it, really, and getting himself rightly eliminated), reminded me it existed and prompting me to listen to it (on CD!) while making dinner tonight (kimchi fried rice, BTW, which I hadn't made since Boston; I'd been having trouble locating kimchi without shrimp; John is allergic). I'm not usually one to feel guilt or shame about my taste, but for some reason I have always felt a little weird about liking this choir-boy pop record full of the musical-theater equivalent of power ballads. Anyway, I distinctly remember hearing this song for the first time at the MIT gym, and memorizing the lyrics so I could Google them at home later. I almost mistook it for Radiohead, because the soaring falsetto vocals are rather Thom Yorkian, though of course the style is different.

"How It Ends" by Devotchka - I heard this song the first time I got high. I held out for decades (not that anyone was trying to sell me drugs on the playground, at least to my knowledge), but my friend Chris Starkey finally convinced me to try smoking pot when I was about yea 25. We were at his apartment in JP on a warm night, with the windows open, lounging around on the couch listening to music. He warned me that most people don't feel anything the first time. But when "How It Ends" came on, I distinctly remember thinking, This is the best song I've ever heard. (I think that was the weed talking.)

"Pictures of You" by The Cure - OK, this is a stretch. I'm sure I heard this song in the '80s, in the background or whatever, and at parties in the '90s and so on. But I never really heard it until I was 19, and I went with some friends to New Orleans for the weekend. We were visiting a kid named Antoine Pedeaux, who was planning to go to Rice the next year; Rice has this thing called "Owl Weekend" (our mascot is the Owls, it's so nerdy you can't handle it) where accepted students visit the campus and get drunk. Anyway, Antoine was this really adorable man-child who wore Harry Potter glasses before Harry Potter glasses were a thing, and who was probably gay but had a crush on me anyway. And he loved The Cure, and it was nighttime and we (me and Kate) were in the backseat of his friend's car (his friend's kitchen had black & white checkered tile on the floor, this has been a lifelong dream of mine), and this song came on sounding so crisp and gorgeous. Such clarity! Again, the windows were open. There will never be a better setting for that song. Whatever happened to Antoine Pedeaux?

I must have dozens of these, but I can't remember any more right now...

Friday, April 20, 2012

Reconciling crap audio quality (MP3s) with perfectionist design

Something I've been wondering about: People are always going on about how Steve Jobs was obsessively devoted to quality and design, how Apple products are these beautiful examples of perfectionist design. The iPod is often held up as an exemplar. It was so successful, it contributed to widespread adoption of the MP3/AAC format over CDs. Many people started buying songs and albums in compressed format directly from iTunes, instead of buying CDs first and then ripping them to MP3. This may be the standard for Kids These Days, I don't know. Do KTD still buy CDs?

But here's the thing about MP3s/AACs. By definition they have poor audio quality compared to CDs. They're created by a process called, hilariously, "lossy compression" (the data is compressed because some of it is lost). According to one study, KTD actually prefer the sound of MP3s to CDs. This is probably analogous to the average person preferring vanillin (artificial vanilla extract) to real vanilla beans. Basically, most people take simplicity over complexity if they're used to it; familiarity is a kind of pleasure. But doesn't this kind of suck? Does anyone care? When people play iTunes on their computer or hook up an iPod to a speaker system, it sounds distinctly worse than a CD. How does this (cumulatively) enormous loss of sound quality jibe with the whole perfectionism thing? This is a serious question. Am I missing something?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Matt Henriksen gives good ending

Open to any page in Ordinary Sun by Matthew Henriksen (Black Ocean, 2011) and odds are, you'll find a good ending. There's an art to the ending, but how to describe it? I don't know who first said an ending (and I think this applies to poems as well as novels and short stories and, what? lives?) should feel both surprising and inevitable. Noelle Kocot's blurb on my book says, "Just when I think I want one of Gabbert's poems to go on forever, it screeches to a halt, but it is the perfect halt." Not trying to turn this into a humblebrag, but whether or not those halts are "perfect," they do seem to screech. I remember worrying, when I first put the manuscript together, that there were too many Big Deal Endings, too many screechings to halts.

Rauan Klassnik recently tweeted:
Another tweet from one Diana Salier:
Much as I'm collecting definitions of poetry, I'd love to hear more quotes about endings. Leave them in the comments, or offer your own profundities. In the meanwhile [sic], here are some of Matt Henriksen's lovely and striking endings, robbed from their context.

Various from "Copse" (short untitled poems in a series):

We lived in a small house
in the quiet North. 

What I cannot find in the morning is most myself.  

She stood
to say "aberration,"
to want the day back.

From "Regulations of the Assassins" (beautiful fucking poem):

In all that nonsense I became a gun.
It's raining now, goddamn.

From "Afterlife with Still Life":

Your skull is
perfecting the triangle, 
making nothing out of three.
Another makes immaculate the mind.

From "Ghost":

This was the beginning of the third year
no one called for anyone. So it is writ.

From "Gorge":

What I erase out here repeats forever.

And from "Insomnia" (which I've mentioned before): "Jesus, why must it / be so late, so bright, and so early?" What I wrote was, "The end is like the end of the novel-within-the-movie at the end of Stand By Me (Richard Dreyfuss typing, Doogie-Howser-style, 'Jesus, does anyone?'). This is the Beatles' song of poems, overplayed, over-perfect, over-quotable, and O."

I guess I like endings with rhythm and gravity.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Hey pod people

I'm in a podcast! Jay Varner and Patrick Culliton of Talus, or Scree are celebrating National Poetry Month by asking poets to describe the cruelest thing they've ever done or that's ever been done to them. You can listen to the podcast here. I'm the first up. You'll also hear poems and tales of cruelty from Eric Baus, Andrea Rexilius, Kelly Forsythe, Bill Carty, Hafizah Geter, Catherine Pierce, Camille Rankine, and Arda Collins. It's good stuff. I hope you're not afraid of birds.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A poem and some funny things

I have a new poem in The Rumpus today, called "Semi-Aubade" (sorry, B, I had to name it at the last minute). It's part of the National Poetry Month feature. Here's the full line-up. I especially liked Jennifer Chang's poem from a couple of days ago ("Or: the wave-stressed shore, the shore queening its pale strand over the world’s erosion").

Kathy's latest post up at the PoFo blog ("Contents: One Acme Poem-Making Kit") reminded me of this old Coyote and Roadrunner cartoon, "Beep Prepared" (the short is packaged up with Splendor in the Grass, a super-weird movie in which Natalie Wood goes insane in a setting outside of space-time as we know it). The sequence between 1:24 and 2:19 is especially wonderful:

Also, as long as I'm posting shorts, this is super hilarious:

Monday, April 9, 2012

My favorite tweets of all time, with commentary

Mike (@__MICHAELJ0RDAN): "Why do people drink milk? Why would you want to drink something that comes out of a cows penis?"

Twitter fact: Use a B-list celebrity as your avatar and everything you say is instantly funnier. See also @alrokerspeaks. Woodland creatures work too, to an extent.

Daniel Casey ‏(@winslowbobbins): "Jesusfuck, how many christian radio stations does the middle of nowhere need? Pennsylvania sucks..."

This tweet would not be funny without the compound blasphemy-swear.

Amelia Gray ‏(@grayamelia) "Best believe I'm casually moving my book to the 'recommended' table at the airport bookstore"

This gets extra points for reminding me that "Best believe" is an expression. I'd totally do this if my book could ever get into an airport bookstore in the first place.

Roxane Gay ‏(@rgay): (1/2) "Guys. I finished the 50 Shades trilogy. The ending defies credulity with such precision it is almost impressive." (2/2) "I literally had to take a deep breath at the end of the book, and say, 'Are you fucking serious?'"

If you don't have anything nice to say about bestsellers, come join my feed.

Peter Jurmu ‏(@Lemnisk): "I sentence you to 30 years of being well known for your peevish metafiction"

Sorry Ben Marcus, that means you.

Molly Laich ‏(@MollyL): "So the baby is upside down in mom's tummy? Which way is it facing? forward? To one side? I don't get it."

Right? Makes no sense.

Sean Gentille (@seangentille): ".@GeraldoRivera What are your thoughts on cargo shorts? Asking for a friend."

In response to Geraldo's claim that a hoodie killed Trayvon, of course. Brilliant.

Jim Behrle ‏(@behrle): "Tell it to my butt-hurt heart"

Funny poets make good tweeters. - Robert Frost.

Tony homo ‏(@BevisSimpson): "Scientists continue search for 'Laziness Gene' that will explain why children of impoverished parents often fail to become wealthy"

Nearly indistinguishable from actual science.

Patricia Lockwood ‏(@TriciaLockwood): "Always have short hair, idiots -- unless you have long hair, in which case, keep it up, that looks beautiful"

Tricia is known for her "sexts," but this non-sext is my definite favorite (and newly apropos!). I believe it was Tricia who said "Poems are jokes." Well, so are tweets. Also, I remember when she had fewer followers than me.

la petite bort ‏(@important_celeb): "we did it, you guys, we saved daylight"

"You guys" is another one of those phrases that's inexplicably funny on Twitter.

your maugham (@mattcozart): "@VagTalk o. henry story: pregnant woman looks forward to beer for 9 months. baby is born. woman picks up beer. sell-by date... yesterday!"

This was in response to Sommer Browning (@vagtalk) tweeting "They call it a due date, but I see it more like the day I will drink 347 beers."

Kendra Grant Malone ‏(@kendragmalone) "srsly just heard a girl at work say 'i find it fascinating how tarot puts string theory to work' TIME TO DIE"

Again ... nearly indistinguishable from actual science.

brendle what‏ (@brendlewhat): "It says here on your resume that you're only pretending to be interested in this job interview because you need money to live. Haha, right!?"

Story of everyone's life.

Dogs doing things ‏(@dogsdoingthings): "Dogs holding out a map showing the whole history of your desire and casually tossing it at your feet, sneering: 'Disgusting.'"

I'm not really into the whole dogs-doing-things thing, but really, it's pretty good.

Robert Toole ‏(@TooleRobert): "Avoid hiring unlucky people. Take half the applicant's resumes and throw them in the trash."

Punctuation error forgiven, I LOVE THIS ONE.

Mike Meginnis ‏(@mikemeginnis): (1/2) "The term 'assclown' mystifies me. It doesn't upset me. I just don't understand it." (2/2) "#someoneexplainassclownstome"

I wish I could Mike!

mikeayoung ‏(@mikeayoung): "It is more than a little erotic to do an impression of someone right in front of them."

Not funny. Just profound.

Ruth Graham ‏(@publicroad): "Anyone have any connections at a college literary magazine? I just took a close-up photo of a tree branch covered in ice."

Best ever burn on the college lit-zine scene.

chris busch ‏(@mstcambot): "had the radio on for two hours, heard 'We Found Love' 3 times and 'Sorry For Party Rockin' twice. Have we run out of songs? Write more songs"

The lack of the period at the end is inspired.

Joel Johnson (@joeljohnson): "life hack: cry into your mouth #lifehacks"

I have this vague idea that Joel Johnson "is a dick" but I can't fully explain how much this tweet means to me. I think of it often.

Rob Delaney ‏(@robdelaney): "I think Newt hit the nail on the head when he said 'I am a weird liar & what appears to be my 3rd chin is where I store extra hate.'"

Rob Delaney is a comedian and one of the few "famous" people I follow on Twitter (famous as in hundreds of K's of followers, but not a billion like Kim Kardashian or whatever). Political poems should aspire to the beauty of good political jokes. Also, Rob Delaney is a feminist. (Another good one: "Sex should never be used as a weapon. Unless we're fighting in a sex war, against alien fuckbots.")

Remy Wilkins (@13thieves): "I love it when activism is so easy. I've clicked so many anti-SOPA links I just leveled up to a Ectoplasmic Mage."

Protip: If you want to win my heart, obliquely acknowledge that social media activism is bullshit signaling, then use the word "mage."

Mark Peters ‏(@wordlust): "Republican birth announcements say 'It’s a boy!' or 'It’s a slut!'"

There is no "too soon" on Twitter, which is good, because with hoodies and birth control being criminalized, I prefer laughing through my tears to just plain crying. This guy is almost as funny as Rob Delaney, but with 1/100 as many followers. Make it happen, people.

Aaron Belz ‏(@aaronbelz): "Uggh!! Am I supposed to love this Henri Cole book? :("

This is a form ("Uggh!! [insert complaint] :(") that Aaron Belz, to my knowledge, has invented, at least when used with irony. Another favorite: "Dear Sir: I'm generally not one to not respond to an email, but in this case I'm going to make a profound exception. Yours truly, Aaron Belz"

Rei Robinson (@geniustown): "'That's when I noticed my fly was open,' Tom pointed out."

What can I say, I love a good Tom Swifty. To quote myself, Twitter has done a lot for the state of puns in America.

Rae Hoffman-Dolan ‏(@sugarrae): "#protip move on"

Another one I think of often. Pretty much the best advice I've ever heard.

Sarang ‏(@excitedstoat): "Out: the tears of a clown. In: the rectal tears of an assclown."

Included for the callback. Sarang and Mike Meginnis, you should be in touch!

Kirsten Lewis (@kirstenLphotog): "I'd like to live out the rest of my existence in Child's Pose. It'll be tough to eat mint chocolate chip ice cream out of a cone though."

Most tweets in this list, I realize, are from people I have never met in person. (This is the magic of Twitter; if you want to read Ashton's stream of consciousness, more power to you. Most accounts are public.) Kirsten I actually know. She is funny and has a really big mouth. I mean literally, you could fit your fist in there.

A. M. Katon ‏(@AdamKaton) "Would somebody PLEASE tell the child at the front of the bus screaming nonsense numbers like ELEVENTY TWON and FREVEN that he fucking RULES?"

Comedy! I love it when they subvert your expectations.

Mister Simian ‏(@MisterSimian): "I know someone who, in a fit of irony, got off on a bus."

Mister Simian is one of those Twitter friends I've never met. His bio is "Statutory ape." For all I know he might actually be an ape. If so, he's highly intelligent.

ryancall ‏(@ryancall): "7th grader said my drawing was sort of cool. i said 'yeah, its okay.' he said, 'thats why i said sort of.'"

One of the first five tweets I ever favorited. Here's the second one:

mark leidner ‏(@markleidner) "joanna newsom's voice is great, she just sucks at harp in a way i cannot abide"

And that's all folks! There are many other favorites I could not include, because I have a Band-Aid on my left index finger and am subject to womanly whims.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Women with long hair and the men who love them

Yesterday, in a comment on a beauty blog (the post was about the recent Daily Mail article/trollfest where the average-looking woman claims women hate her because she's beautiful), I read an offhand reference to a "study" (there was no link or citation) that found women will encourage other women to do whatever men don't find attractive, to reduce competition. For example, most men like long hair on women, so women are always encouraging other women to cut their hair shorter.

I did a little Googling around and couldn't find the "study," which doesn't mean it doesn't exist (Google doesn't work anymore). But I did find a couple of blog posts by men who prefer long hair. One said that in the past, he has had crushes on women that were squelched overnight when the woman got a short haircut. Poof, attraction gone. Another wrote: "Even when an attractive woman can pull it off, she almost invariably looks even better with long hair."

I find all this rather interesting. Some related thoughts/anecdotes:
  • My boyfriend from the ages of 19-25 had long, curly hair. At one point, after we'd been dating for probably two and a half years or so, he decided to cut his hair off, like to normal guy length. Similar to the guy above, I was surprised to find I was instantly less attracted to him. More than that, he seemed suddenly unfamiliar, like he'd been replaced by a lookalike as in Atmospheric Disturbances. Clearly, my attraction to him was tied up in his being "weird," in looking unconventional, the way some men's attraction to a woman is tied up in her looking maximally feminine. (He eventually grew his hair back out.)
  • About a month ago I saw a woman with a cute pixie haircut in a museum and suddenly had an urge to cut my hair that way. It seemed really easy. Though we have a good friend with a pixie haircut that he has admired in the past, John didn't like that idea so much. I mentioned it to a few women and without exception, they encouraged me to do it (!).
  • If the theory is true, I don't think it's necessarily a conscious thing. Women might seek ways to reduce sexual competition without even being aware they're doing it. And as Dave Gottlieb pointed out, "there may be equilibriums that are better for all women if they can worry less about competing in attractiveness." In other words, it might be a net positive for everyone if some women have short hair. (And there are some men who like short hair.)
  • I also feel like there's some kind of vicarious pleasure derived from seeing women do things we're not brave enough to do ourselves. This could be genuine while still getting mixed up with the competition thing. For example, I encourage you to eat the cupcake because I'm not going to let myself do it, but I want someone to eat the cupcake. And hey, if you happen to get fat while doing so, that's no skin off of my nose ...
  • Sometimes you don't know you're jealous of someone until something bad happens to them. The schadenfreude tells you who you want to fail.
Also, Twitter is the best.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Marginal Revolution used to be a good blog

"I vote every day by not having children" - Blake Butler 

I have read Marginal Revolution for years. The writers (mostly Tyler Cowen but also Alex Tabarrok) write multiple posts per day, and they are usually on the short side, posing provocative or puzzling questions and often simply dumping in a link, quote or excerpt of potential interest without further commentary. Half the value, for this reason, was always in the comments, and I thought of the frequent readers/commenters as generally pretty smart and interesting.

Lately, on the rare occasion that I click through from my blog reader to view the comments on a post, I come away feeling like they're largely a bunch of assholes. Today Cowen linked to this Susan Sontag sampler in the NYT and quoted a couple of lines from it (without comment, beyond the title: "True, false, or uncertain?"). Here are some of the gems his readers left in response:

"It’s very unfashionable nowadays to say 'Silly woman!'"

"The second part, okay, but the first part is completely vacuous, like something a freshman girl would say in a humanities class."

"some feminist wackjob"

"What she likes and dislikes reads like the average single girl’s okcupid profile."

"Worthless cvnt."

One guy, a Matt, wrote: "I used to think MR had an impressively high quality comments section. Was I wrong or did MR’s readers become considerably more vile in the last couple of years?" It's usually good policy to stay out of comment streams where you're going to be despised by default, but I think it's valuable to side with dissenters sometimes. I wrote: "Agreed. The misogyny factor is way up (and general angry intolerance). Might as well read the comments on Salon."

One "Lords of Lies" responded: "sorry, stupidity and sophistry don’t deserve tolerance. and misogyny is not a synonym for ridiculing a feminist’s delusions and lies, no matter how badly you want it to be."

Actually, LoL, "misogyny" kind of is a synonym (though I wouldn't use the word "synonym" that way) for "ridiculing" a feminist and calling her opinions "delusions and lies." I wonder what he thinks "misogyny" and "feminist" mean? And "lies" for that matter; his screen name is sending mixed messages.

There were similarly disheartening comments on a recent post on why women don't file patents (this time by Tabarrok). They weren't as blatantly offensive as the comments on Sontag, and there were some definite voices of reason in the mix, but you could almost feel the collective eyeroll of the contingent that thinks it's obvious why women don't file patents (because they don't have good ideas, natch). For example: "This can’t be because men are better at and more interested in certain things than women. This has to be some insidious discriminatory conspiracy. We need gender quotas for patents to fight this injustice, or maybe we should just award patents earned by men to women." (If there was any doubt, his other comments make it clear he is being sarcastic. This is "Miley Cyrax," the gent who compared Sontag to a "freshman girl.")

Tabarrok himself writes, "Predictably, the authors do not ask why women might self-select into non patent-intensive fields, perhaps because this would require at least a discussion of politically incorrect questions." I'm sure he thinks if there's any gender imbalance in his own economics department or in the readership of his blog, it's purely due to self-selection. Women just aren't interested in economics! Nothing wrong with having different hobbies. Except maybe your economics department is like your blog: Women are interested in economics, but they just aren't interested in being called stupid cunts.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Everything was a problem and we did not understand a thing

"Everything was a problem and we did not understand a thing": Beautiful quote, too bad Noam Chomsky is using the academic "we" and actually means "you." It would be nice if he could manage to concede that his universal grammar theory, the drum he's been banging for decades, might have some flaws or failings; surely he could be forgiven that, linguistics was a young science when he got into it. But nope: Any evidence that contradicts his theory "can't be true," not possibly:
Let's start with the idea that everyone connects you with from the 1950s and ’60s—a "universal grammar" underlying all languages. How is that idea holding up in 2012?  
It's virtually a truism. There are people who misunderstand the term but I can't deal with that. It's perfectly obvious that there is some genetic factor that distinguishes humans from other animals and that it is language-specific. The theory of that genetic component, whatever it turns out to be, is what is called universal grammar.  
But there are critics such as Daniel Everett, who says the language of the Amazonian people he worked with seems to challenge important aspects of universal grammar.  
It can't be true. These people are genetically identical to all other humans with regard to language. They can learn Portuguese perfectly easily, just as Portuguese children do. So they have the same universal grammar the rest of us have. 
"Whatever it turns out to be" = basically, "you figure it out numskulls."

There's something about his idea that "there is some genetic factor that distinguishes humans from other animals"  that feels so racist. Right? It's like, Blech, filthy monkeys! Can scarcely utter a complete sentence...

And it's not at all obvious to me that this "genetic factor" is "language-specific." Couldn't we just as easily say:

  • "It's perfectly obvious that there is some genetic factor that distinguishes humans from other animals and that it is plumbing-specific." 
  • "It's perfectly obvious that there is some genetic factor that distinguishes humans from other animals and that it is cheese-specific." 
  • "It's perfectly obvious that there is some genetic factor that distinguishes humans from other animals and that it is Nintendo-specific." 
Bees and birds communicate in ways that is language-like. Maybe their toasters just don't look like ours.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Foolin' around with perfume

Happy Fool's Day! The April issue of Open Letters is up and includes a new perfume column. I wrote about the dodgy practice of perfume layering. Who dares layer two distinct works of art?! I DARE. Check it out:

Diptyque Philosykos + Bulgari Black 
Are Olivia Giacobetti and Annick Menardo friends? I’m not sure, but there’s a secret kinship between these two minimalist fragrances, a chilly, almost metallic edge to their sweetness, which combining them amplifies. Philosykos is the ultimate green, woody fig, with the creaminess of coconut but no perceptible vanilla component. Fig accords often have a cold feel, with something that reminds me of air conditioning fluids or even, when things go wrong, freezer burn, and that’s subtly present in Philosykos too. Black doesn’t have that same palpable frostiness, but it is surprisingly cool for a vanilla fragrance; it smells like vanilla without vanilla’s usual balsamic warmth. And the leather sheds all references to animal hides, smelling instead rubbery, pliable, like a tire shop or new tennis shoes. 
When layered, the rubber recedes into the background, and what you smell is a sweeter, more saturated version of Philosykos – or is it a greener, creamier version of Black? Intriguingly, it becomes hard to pick the elements apart, as if it really were one perfume. The vanilla is not enough to candy the figs; neither perfume on its own is a gourmand in the “yummy” sense, and the combined forces are not a gourmand either, but a strange, even unsettling hybrid that reminds me of the end of Chase Twichell’s poem “Erotic Energy”: 
So that, years later, at the moment 
the girl’s body finally says yes
to the end of childhood,
a green pail with an orange shovel 
will appear in her mind like a tropical
blossom she has never seen before.
There's also a very interesting interview with my friend Joshua Ware, whom you may know as a poet; he also takes striking photographs: "I’m not interested in accurately portraying an object in the way I see it occurring naturally. Instead, I’d like to see it how I want to see it. It’s kind of like that scene near the beginning of David Lynch’s Lost Highway when Bill Pullman tells the detective that he doesn’t own a video camera because, as he says: 'I like to remember things my own way … Not necessarily the way they happened.'"