Friday, June 28, 2013

Some new poetry ideas

OK so these aren't really "new" new (there are no new ideas, don't you know?), but these are some thoughts I've been thinking in the past few months.

1. Form as "Surface Tension"

This idea comes from a talk that Julie Carr did at Counterpath last month, based on her new book from Dalkey Archive, Surface Tension: Ruptural Time and the Poetics of Desire in Late Victorian Poetry. In the lecture, she talked about (with diagrams!) how surface tension works, like actual surface tension in, say, a bead of water. At a molecular level, it looks something like this:


Rather than risk explaining this all wrong, I'll just quote Wikipedia and we can blame any wrongness on the male youths of America: "In the bulk of the liquid, each molecule is pulled equally in every direction by neighboring liquid molecules, resulting in a net force of zero. The molecules at the surface do not have other molecules on all sides of them and therefore are pulled inwards. This creates some internal pressure and forces liquid surfaces to contract to the minimal area."

How is this relevant to poetry, you ask? Good question. Julie talked about the persistent idea that poems are made up of two kinds of "stuff": the surface stuff (language and metaphor and meter and all that fancy business) and the understory, as it were, the true "meaning" of the poem. If this is your theory of poetry, then you'll always be trying to translate the surface stuff into the other stuff, the "real" poem. But, she argues, a better way to look at it is with a surface tension model. In this model, there is only one kind of stuff (the language of the poem being the equivalent of water molecules), but there is extra tension at the level of the surface of the poem. Formal effects are not a different kind of stuff you put on top of the real poem to decorate it. It's all language, there is just more tension at the surface.

I've always (even when I was twelve, etc.) thought that the poem is the poem, there is no "other" poem, the sound and the meaning are one – but I LOVE this way of looking at it! It's such an elegant analogy. (Liz Phair reference because last night I was hanging out with some poets and none of them were familiar with Exile in Guyville and I felt like somebody's dad banging on about, I don't know ... a band kids don't care about. Or my mom assuring me that the Beatles were, in fact, more famous in their day than New Kids on the Block.)

2. The Minimal Takeaway

So this came up in Julia Cohen's recent response to the Harper's article on why contemporary American poetry sucks, etc. (Here's my response.) Here's the paragraph where she suggests a new (maybe, to you) way of approaching a poem (emphases mine):
C) What If, Complexity and Critical Thinking Aside, We Just Enjoy Whatever Parts of the Poem We Enjoy?
What I mean is, you don’t need to read a poem multiple times. You can read it once. You can read it once and feel like you understood it or NOT feel like you understood it. You can read it again if you want to, but you don’t have to. You can read it and fall in love with a single line and ignore the rest. That’s okay. I love this Gwendolyn Brooks line “a girl gets sick of a rose,” I love this Zachary Schomburg line “what I plant I bury,” I love this line by Jennifer Denrow, “You were the white field when you handed me a blank sheet of paper and said you'd worked so hard all day and this was the best field you could manage,” and this line by Seth Landman, “What is good? My curiosity sways on an island with sounds,” I love this line by Elizabeth Willis, “I swim to shore everyday.” I love these lines for many different reasons. They make me feel something. They make me think about language. They make me think about human potential and human fallibility. Like there is no “right” way to write a poem, there is no “right” way to find pleasure in reading a poem. When I go to a museum and stand in front of a Jasper Johns painting or a Rothko, I don’t pretend to understand all of its meanings or implications—but that doesn’t make me afraid or bitter. I might come back and sit in front of it again, and see if I glean something new or different. Or I might not. I’ve gained something from the experience, and it’s okay if that “something” is indefinable. As Sommer Browning writes, “either way I’m celebrating.”
I don't hate on an academic approach to reading a poem, to explicating and picking apart if that gives you pleasure. That's partly what I'm doing in my Poneme columns. But I don't write an essay every time I read a poem, and I wouldn't want to. I also think that if a poet writes a line that moves me and sticks with me, they have given me something great, and who cares if they haven't written a book's worth of perfectly polished self-contained poems? Or maybe they have but I just haven't gotten around to reading them all, so what. I love the Justin Marks line "The day crawls by like a living document, the prettier for having forgotten me" – even if I keep forgetting the rest of the poem. Years ago, when I was a reader for Ploughshares, I screened a submission that included the line "sweet and extra"; it got stuck in me somehow. Then, much later, I met the author at a party. It was Mary Walker Graham. I've read probably fewer than ten of her poems in my life, but I think she's a phenomenal poet. (The "like a person" refrain in "Then & Now" kills me.)

3. All Poetry Is Visual Poetry

This one's all me! (Except I'm sure someone else has said this before, see above.) I was tweet-chatting with Jessica Smith last night and telling her how instructive it was for me to see her read at the Mass Poetry Festival in Lowell one year. See, Jessica writes visual poetry, AKA VisPo. Her poems look like this. And people often don't know how to read them. I really didn't, until I saw her do this reading. She projected the poems on a huge screen behind her on stage, and explained that she doesn't read a poem the same way every time. It's like a garden with multiple paths, and you can choose to wander through the garden however you like.

I'm not very good at listening, so I would almost always prefer to have a visual aid at a poetry reading. (There are exceptions – I saw Denver poet HR Hegnauer perform last weekend, and she was utterly brilliant; it was not like a reading but some kind of magical poetry theater.) And the reason, I suddenly realized, is because to me all poetry is visual poetry. How it looks on the page matters so much, is so crucial to the meaning. This might be, for me, the fundamental difference between poetry and prose – not the sound, as people always say, but how it looks. The line break is just the simplest example of this, but even a lack of line breaks (as in prose poetry) is important to the reading.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Six Scents Memories: First impressions on paper

My lovely local perfume friend Natalie is no longer local; she will be traveling on the continent (lucky!) this summer and then moving to a new permanent address in the fall. Last weekend I dropped by her place to "help her pack" – what I actually did was drink two mimosas and take a bunch of her stuff, like half the contents of her spice cabinet plus a bunch of nail polish and perfume. Among my winnings: samples of all six of the "Memories" collection from SixScents. This is my first experience with the line; the first collection of six was not reviewed favorably in The Guide and I haven't heard much about them since, so I decided to minimize risk and try them on blotters. Here are my first impressions (the quoted text is from the cards on the samples; each perfumer was asked to create a scent based on the memory of a designer):

No. 1 Beau Bow (by Alexis Mabille & Rodrigo Flores-Roux

"The fragrant smells of 1970's French Bourgeois culture as experienced by a chic, cultured teenager making love to the world for the first time."

The gender neutrality of this description is interesting. Of course the "beau" in the name implies it's for le dudes and indeed, it has a "fresh" cologne-y smell that reads as primarily masculine. It starts off green and astringent, like one of those gin-and-tonic Hermes scents. Then there's a watery/aquatic cucumber-violet leaf vibe allowed to get a little funky, because if it was perfectly shower-clean it wouldn't smell French, and certainly not '70s-French. But it's not really funky enough to evoke teenage sex, even among the chic.

No. 2 Trompe L'oeil (by Mary Katrantzou & Shyamala Maisondieu)

"Picturesque moments spent eloping to the beaches of Greece. Fresh shampooed hair, lipstick, sweet cocktails and the seabreeze over the warm Mediterranean air."

You can elope more than once? No. 2 opens with an intensely fruity almond top note (mimosa tonka overdose) that wants to be interesting but veers quite suddenly into disgusting territory – up close it's pure cough syrup. Eventually that calms down and you're left with a gourmand suntan lotion kind of scent, similar to Serge Lutens' Datura Noir, but sweeter and tackier. I guess it's supposed to smell like shampoo, so you can't really fault them.

No. 3 Can't Smell Fear (by Juun J & Natalie Gracia)

"Providing the protection and comfort of an old leather jacket in a city of concrete and wood."

Interesting sharp, citrusy-floral leather in the style of Jolie Madame, Azuree, Aramis, etc. We've got bottles of all three of those so I wouldn't need this one, but it's well done, if not terribly original.

No. 4 Ascent (by Rad Hourani & Christophe Raynaud)

"Ascent replicates the journey of life to death through notes that punctuate each stage of life."

Seems like Rad doesn't really get how memories work. In trying to capture the full arc of existence, they came up with something that smells exactly, exactly like a bar of cheap white soap. Ugh.

No. 5 #087 (by N.Hoolywood & Stephen Nilsen)

"Experiencing America for the first time after a childhood spent in Japan. Traditional woody notes of serene Japanese spas and an industrial infusion of motor oil that triggers memories of cross country road trips."

A strangely attractive combination of minty and smoky smells. Appealingly intellectual, this is like a cleaner, crisper version of Andy Tauer's Lonestar Memories. It really does evoke serene outdoor landscapes and industrial equipment at the same time. Unfortunately, as time goes on the "motor oil" accord fades, and the drydown is overly sweet and soapy.



No. 6 M (by Ohne Titel & Yann Vasnier)

"Rebellious nights spent up til [sic] dawn; dancing, meeting friends and finding love."

Wow. This one is really interesting too – in fact this one I decided to spray on skin. It smells like sweet, musky-animalic leather, odd and familiar in such equal measure that I had to look up the notes to see what I'm smelling. Here's the list from Fragrantica: cardamom, cedar, black plum, tonka, castoreum, civet, musk, moxalone and cosmone. The castoreum must be responsible for the smoky leather note. What's really amazing, though, is that it doesn't smell overtly dirty or naughty the way perfumes with civet, etc., can. It just smells deep and lush, even velvety. It's also a little bit chemical, but in a completely successful way, like Gucci Rush – as in #087, the memory has really been captured. It's so clearly a night perfume, sexy and mysterious, like brushing up against a stranger. I'm going to go ahead and call this one AWESOME.

Collections like this, with multiple perfumers, are bound to be hit or miss, but I have to say this one definitely isn't boring, and M might even go on my purchase list.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Why wear makeup?

Autumn of The Beheld, the smartest beauty blog I know, asked her readers this morning: Why do you—or why do you not—wear makeup? I've been meaning to do a "some notes on" style post on makeup for a while, but in lieu of that I think I'll just repost my comment here. I don't believe in "universal truths" (ahem, Mark Edmundson) and I'm not trying to speak for everyone, but I do think my answer probably applies to a lot of people who haven't thought about it much or tried to articulate a reason before. Here's what I wrote – and note that I'm attempting to address some unspoken subtext I perceive in the question (i.e., is it problematic for feminists to wear makeup?):

I don't think of makeup as fundamentally different from any other activity meant to enhance one's "personal style," an outward expression of taste and aesthetics. That is to say, I think makeup falls in the same general category as fashion/getting dressed, home decor, etc. On some level these things can all be "artistic" – they are skills, one makes choices. On the other, there's signaling involved – it's directed externally (most people wear different clothes around the house than when they go out into the world), and it's a way of manipulating how you're perceived.

So the short answer is, I wear makeup because I like the way it changes how I'm perceived. But I also think it's fun in the same little-girl way that coloring is fun, that crayons *in themselves* are fun – it's like coloring but on your face. A subtle form of costuming that, as women, we're allowed to do every day. I think it's too bad that it's not culturally acceptable for most men to wear makeup in public; if it were, at least some of them surely would.

[To expand on this and address the subtext more directly:] I don't believe wearing makeup is inherently anti-feminist or the result of insecurity any more than these other practices that rarely get labeled or questioned as such, like putting effort into how your apartment looks. It's all "style" which is (almost) all signaling. My own approach to "style" is that I like indulging in it up until the point that it stops feeling fun or starts feeling prohibitively expensive. Everyone has their own set point here so I'm sure there are people who would perceive the amount of time and money I spend on "style" to be excessive, but it doesn't feel excessive to me.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Some quick thoughts on the Harper's "Poetry Slam" article

There's a big "what's wrong with poetry" piece in the latest Harper's and Jordan Davis was nice enough to send me the PDF (we recently let our subscription of many years lapse). [UPDATE: You can read it online, sans paywall, here.] Harper's is certainly capable of putting out a high-quality think piece on an obscure topic, but this wasn't it. In fact I found the author so reactionary and ill-informed on contemporary poetry that I almost don't want to respond; it's like letting the terrorists win. But what the heck, I'll respond to a few points.

First of all, between the title ("Poetry Slam, or, The Decline of American Verse") and the bio, it feels pretty parodic right away. I mean: "Mark Edmundson teaches English at the University of Virginia. His book Why Teach? will be out this fall from Bloomsbury." That's funny, right? It's like "Mark Edmundson is a professor of mathematics and the author of What the Fuck is Math?" But indeed, why teach poetry when you've obviously read so little of it in the past forty years? Almost every example he uses was published in the '60s or '70s.

He sets out to do something noble, I suppose – it's a manifesto-like call for poetry that's more engaged and ambitious. He writes that "three qualities are necessary to write superb lyric poetry." The first is, essentially, talent: "she must be able to make music, command metaphors, compress sense." Second, "she must also have something to say." In other words, poetry should have identifiable content; one can't make art for art's sake. Finally: "Given these powers – the power of expression and the power to find a theme – the poet must still add ambition." I'm sort of sympathetic to the general idea here, and I've certainly approached student poetry with something like this rubric – that is to say, I've encouraged young writers to be more ambitious, to be less afraid of showing effort, of caring.

But the problem with setting up a rigid system that defines what poetry can be and do is that it inevitably gets used in an agenda-driven way to dismiss whatever poetry you don't happen to like. Mark Edmundson uses these three vague principles (skill/craft, paraphraseable and relevant content, plus ambition) to justify the poetry he does like and scorn the stuff he doesn't. The only working poets he does admire, as far as I can tell, are Tony Hoagland and Frederick Seidel; his agenda does not make room for John Ashbery or Anne Carson. I mean, anyone who's still pulling "That's not poetry" on Ashbery, how can you take that seriously? His attempted takedown of Anne Carson is so hopelessly inept I can't believe it got past the editors at Harper's:

I cannot do much with the lines that begin "Stanzas, Sexes, Seductions" (or many of her other lines, either):  
It's good to be neuter.
I want to have meaningless legs.
There are things unbearable.
One can evade them a long time.
Then you die. 
The poem is, I think, an attempt to imagine a posthuman identity. And surely it is distinctive in its voice. But it is so obscure, mannered and private that one (this one, at least) cannot follow its windings.

Really? How on earth is this excerpt obscure? Leaving aside the fact that it's ridiculous to use five lines as a representative slice of contemporary poetry, these lines are far less mannered than the Lowell lines he quotes favorably on the first page ("Pity the planet, all joy gone / from this sweet volcanic cone," etc.). At this point I can only come to the conclusion that this guy's tastes are completely arbitrary, but he seems to think the quality of poems he favors (such as, improbably, Ginsberg's "The Ballad of the Skeletons") is self-evident compared to those he doesn't – that list again random and improbable. He trashes Robert Hass's much anthologized "Meditation at Lagunitas" at some length. I was literally shaking my head in disbelief as I read this passage, in which he tries to convince us that this iconic poem, containing some of the most memorable first ("All the new thinking is about loss. / In this it resembles all the old thinking.") and last lines ("blackberry, blackberry, blackberry") of the 20th century is just okay but not worthy of being a "major poem." It's not one of my favorite poems by any stretch but I'm this close to making a "Leave Robert Hass alone!" video.

The real problem with the article is that Edmundson tries to argue for immediate, politically engaged poetry but has a very narrow-minded idea of what that might look like. (Difficult, conceptual poetry could have subversive political aims. And it's not like what Lowell wrote in the '70s ended war as we know it.) He wants poets to have the guts to write "universal truths" with conviction: "She must be willing to articulate the possibility that what is true for her is true for all." She must "seek to weave a comprehensive vision." I kept thinking, what universal truths? This guy's got no sense of relativism. And of all the poets writing today, he trots out Tony Hoagland and Frederick Seidel as exemplars of universal truth-saying? Their content is expensive motorcycles and what it's like when Dean Young talks about wine.

So, in sum:
Two very enthusiastic thumbs down.

UPDATE: For a much more thorough response to this piece, I recommend Julia Cohen's open letter to Mark Edmundson. Brief excerpt here so you know what you're in for:

There are two basic cause/effect accusations in “Poetry Slam” that are worthwhile to dissect to show the dubious connections and terrifying implications: 
#1 Because contemporary American poetry is too hermetic/convoluted/obscure/confusing it consequently “has too few resources to take on consequential events.”
#2 Because Contemporary American poets lack “ambition,” they do not “light up the world we hold in common,” i.e. they don’t reflect my own worldviews that make me feel like there is a singular “fundamental truth of human experience.” 
Unfortunately, what emerges in this article is a desire for singular type of poem. A poem that a) provides unique images that simultaneously relate to obvious cultural referents (“the TV show, the fashions, the Internet”), b) sublimates most poetic techniques to present direct arguments in the form of revelations c) that respond to “the events that began on September 11, 2001 and continue to this moment.” In sum, every poem should be a humanist poem of epiphany with blatant political/cultural references to post-9/11 living. Oh yes, this sounds like a great way to enliven all American poetry! 
While many wouldn’t bother, I want us to seriously consider these criticisms (as far as we can in a blog post) as well as confront the assumptions that they bring to the literary table. Ultimately, though, I want us to re-think the very questions being posed so that we can move past them to more productive conversations. While I’m not addressing all of the problems (some are too inane/insane to confront) in Edmundson’s article, by breaking down and reframing these 2 cause/effect arguments we can reorient ourselves as more culturally active citizens that embrace the multiplicity of contemporary poetry.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Some things people say that I don't understand

"Dark chocolate is my guilty pleasure!"

Ughhhhhh what's with people who don't understand how guilt works? Or pleasure? Serious Eats always asks its interns what their guilty food pleasures are and half the time pleasure on any level is always already entangled with guilt. For example: "anything salty and sweet in the same bite, like chocolate chip cookies with sea salt on top." I mean salty and sweet are like the two main tastes. And isn't adding sea salt a way to make cookies fancier and more sophisticated? Why would you feel guilty about that? Unless you're dipping Chips Ahoy in nacho sauce I'm not impressed.

"The play's the thing!" 

Why did little bits and parts of so many Shakespeare lines become standalone quotes? This doesn't make any sense without the rest of the sentence, why do people say this. It's like how "The proof of the pudding is in the eating" somehow became "The proof is in the pudding" and everyone acts like that's coherent and self-evident.

"I just got a rejection for some poems I submitted in October! I don't even remember writing them! And I've never heard of this journal!"

That's like nine months ago, that's not even long in literary terms. Why are writers so quick to disown their own writing? Like when poets are all "Such & Such Press wants to publish my book but I hate all those poems now!" I feel like before submitting your work you should read it enough times to a) form a memory of writing it and b) know if you think it's publishable?

Sorry, I don't know what my problem is.

Friday, June 14, 2013

My favorite tweets of all time, part 4

I went on a favoriting rampage earlier this week. It seems like I favorite more tweets when I'm emotionally or physically compromised in some way – when I'm sad or hungover or there's been a mass shooting, etc. (mass shootings and hangovers seem to happen at roughly the same frequency these days). So I'm faving all these tweets and I realize it's been about six months since I posted some of my favorites. So here we go!
This is what I've been saying! We've trod all over this question before (Do women think they're uglier than they are or do they just pretend to think they're ugly for social purposes?) but I wonder, are men really invested in this idea that beautiful women don't know they're beautiful? Isn't that directly contrary to the idea, often attributed to celebrities in "the sex issue" of various magazines, that confidence is sexy? Or are songs like this just telling women what they think we want to hear, i.e., maybe we're more beautiful than we think we are? (Contrary to the message of that recent Dove campaign, studies have shown most people's mental image of themselves is slightly hotter than the reality.)
Someone recently – Alex Estes I think – was complaining that nobody had made a good NSA joke yet. This is my favorite so far, but I'll give a tip of the hat to the two below as well:

Actually the candy bar tweet might beat out Colson's.

This was from a conversation going on in response to this review in Bookforum of Katherine Angel's Unmastered. I haven't read the book, but it's obvious pretty early on that they got someone who doesn't like sex, feminism, or memoirs to review a feminist memoir about sex. I hadn't even noticed the irony of Cristina Nehring's complaining that she didn't like any of the content and to boot, it was too short (you know that old Yiddish joke about small portions, right?).
Have I included this guy in my roundups before? He's a genius.
I'm always into jokified poem tweets; see the Lemon Hound tweet in Part 3. And Belz is the master of the "Uggh" tweet. See also:
And this blast from the past (April 2012?! We were alive then?)
OK it's my fault for reading beauty blogs and Allure and shit but I feel this way about "pop of color" and "beachy waves."
I was laughing at this one for HOURS.
I saw Sommer later in the day on May 31 and she was like, "Can you believe no one RT'ed or faved that?" But I see it's become something of a "sleeper hit."
The equivalent of opening an email to a coworker four cubes down with "I hope this finds you well."
STORY. OF. MY LIFE.
Once-friend @rotatingskull actually blocked me over a GIF/JIF argument a couple weeks ago. People feel STRONGLY about this, guys. And I'm one of 'em!

OK, one more for now:
I'm not even sure what the Shock Top logo looks like, but I'm picturing a cross between the Kool-Aid pitcher and one of those suns wearing sunglasses.

Wow. I was pretty close:


Until next time. (And check out the first, second, and third editions.)

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Some thoughts on plagiarism, auto-plagiarism and reference

Yesterday was a weird day on Twitter. Aaron Belz, a poet I know "from the Internet," and Patton Oswalt, who I guess is a semi-famous comedian?, got into a public fight about Sammy Rhodes, AKA @prodigalsam, who all the Twitter comedians apparently hate because he steals jokes – in comedy terms, a crime rivaled only by being a feminist, I'm sure.

You can see the case for Sammy's plagiarism, if you're curious, in visual format at the Borrowing Sam Tumblr. For example:



I don't doubt that Prodigal Sam steals jokes, with awareness or not with awareness, given the body of evidence against him. I'm not about to defend him; if anything I'd suggest he steal funnier jokes. But they made two sequels to The Hangover, I'm not the barometer of comedy in America. I just want to talk around the topic a little bit, so here are some thoughts.

* There's a bit in this Salon piece about the ethics of self-plagiarism: Is it OK to reuse the same joke formats or even just rerun the same jokes? See this example where he keeps tweeting variations on "Just realized ducks can't hug and now I can't sleep" (inserting different animals). I mean, first of all, ducks can hug:


Which is why this isn't a funny joke. (And does Nickelback even have a Greatest Hits album?) But in principle, I'm not against self-plagiarism, which, when you're aware of it, is really more of a form of self-reference, and a kind of inside joke for your longtime followers, if we're talking about Twitter. I like when poets do this too, reusing the same lines in new contexts, sometimes with slight variations. I actually tell students to do this, because often they are able to write great lines before they are able to write great poems. That's why you have to save your darlings! I.e. rescue them and put them in new poems. I do this in my poems and I do it on Twitter too. For a while I kept tweeting new variations/translations of the (in)famous Rilke line "You must change your life," e.g. "You should change your life," "You gotsta change your life," etc. I wasn't doing it in the hopes that people hadn't seen my previous tweets; it's a better gag if they had seen them. Similarly, Sammy Rhodes' animal hug tweets are actually funnier if you think of them as meta-jokes or anti-jokes. I don't know if he intended them that way of course; maybe he's too sincere for that. (His avatar has New Sincerity written all over it!)

* I feel like you could make a case that almost anyone has plagiarized a bunch of their tweets, consciously or not consciously. A couple of weeks ago I was blabbing on Twitter about the silliness of user reviews for books on Goodreads and Amazon (as expanded on here); this was part of the tirade:


Today, Teju Cole tweeted something quite similar – about as similar as Sammy R's jokes are to some of their alleged predecessors, anyway:


Notice that TC's version got wayyyy more favorites! Anyway, it's possible that he saw my earlier tweet, because he does follow me (cough, humblebrag), but I don't think he did, and even if he did, I wouldn't care that he was "borrowing" the format, probably unintentionally. I mean, he was responding to a real Amazon review! ("The Odyssey was a much better book. Skip this one if you can, you get a good summary of it in the Odyssey, it'll save you some time.") And I'm sure someone or several someones thought/tweeted the same thing about some other book before me. Thoughts, especially when limited to 140 characters, come in templates and tend to have a lot of overlap, both structurally and content-wise. Does that make it OK to knowingly steal from people and try to pass their work off as your own? No, of course not, I'm just pointing out that what superficially looks like plagiarism could easily not be.

* I remember there being a controversy when Last Orders by Graham Swift won the Booker Prize. Someone accused him of plagiarizing As I Lay Dying. Almost 20 years later I'm still astounded by the stupidity of this. It's very obviously an homage, a book-length reference to the Faulkner, an update of the story using the same form and characters. You can read and it enjoy it without knowing that, but crying "plagiarism" here is like saying Clueless plagiarized Emma. Again, I'm not saying that Sammy Rhodes' Twitter feed is full of sophisticated allusions. I never followed him but from the examples I've seen I doubt it. However, when you've got a culture that is trigger-happy when it comes to accusations of plagiarism, it's easy to miss nuance and subtlety on the level of reference/homage/pastiche. People seem especially doltish about this stuff on Twitter; see all the people who missed the barn-sized irony in the Iliad tweet above.

* For more laughs, I recommend the 3-star reviews of Hamlet on Amazon, where you'll find such scintillating criticism as "It is Hamlet, what can you say. It is what it is" and "the play, as plays go, is simply just so-so."

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The '90s Revisited Part Whatever: Aerosmith Videos and Romeo + Juliet

John is in Connecticut and I've been home alone, which seems to trigger cravings for "comfort media" rather than comfort food. Accordingly, I can't stop reliving my teen years. This weekend, I noticed The Man in the Moon is on Netflix Instant. Remember this movie? It was Reese Witherspoon's first role, and I hadn't seen it since junior high. It's an okay little flick about two sisters competing for the attention of the same guy, "first love" and all that. I'm thinking, due to recent life stressors of one type or another, that my body just wants to cry, because I started basically sobbing during the scene where Sam Waterston walks around the truck and hugs Dani. Earlier the same day, I was crying uncontrollably at the end of the lunch lady episode of Chopped, so clearly I'm just looking for any excuse to emote.

Anyway: The love interest in The Man in the Moon is played by Jason London, and that made me want to rewatch some of those Aerosmith videos from the '90s, the era when music video budgets were growing exponentially and MTV even told you who directed them. The first one I watched was "Crazy," which was weird because the imagery at the end of the tractor going around the field with no driver, and the splashing in the pond, echoes TMITM so closely that for a second I couldn't remember what had made me think of the video. But it wasn't the tractor, it was Jason London, who is not in this video, but in "Amazing" (the one with the virtual reality theme).



The main point of all these videos was pretty much "Alicia Silverstone is hot" (with a side, in the above case, of "My daughter is hot, too"). Watching this and "Cryin'," I remembered how intensely, at the age of 14 or 15, I wanted to be pretty – but really, not just pretty, desirable.



I wasn't savvy enough back then to break this shit down on a feminist level; all I knew about the male gaze was that it was important. The crap you watch after school when you're 14 indoctrinates you: GIRLS MUST BE HOT.

Relatedly, check out these excerpts from the diary of a 15-year-old girl obsessed with Leonardo DiCaprio in the mid-90s; on November 2, 1996 (my 17th birthday!) she writes:
I have come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as a Romeo. I’m still crying. There is no guy that beautiful who will come and declare me his love the moment he sees me. There is no guy that beautiful who would die for me. I don’t think there is a guy that gorgeous who will ever kiss me. I hate William Shakespeare.
And the next day:
Today I was in an awful mood. I cried sporadically (alone) and blamed my mood on tiredness when my parents bugged me. But the truth is: I’m obsessed with Romeo and Juliet. 
I keep rethinking scenes from the movie like when they first meet. Romeo is looking into a huge fish tank from one side when his eyes meet Juliet’s through a coral reef. Romeo follows her head with his—nose pressed against the glass. It is so totally believable that they had fallen in love. I’m miserable.
Which reminds me, I rewatched Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet last summer, and that scene is quite amazing (in no small part due to the love theme performed by Des'ree):



Lara Ehrlich's diaries really capture the poignancy of the pre-boyfriend years. (See also My So-Called Life.) I remember feeling unwanted so exactly that it's somewhat difficult to believe I was going around being wanted like two years later. At 15, it feels like your life will NEVER HAPPEN. Then suddenly you're 17 and sexually assaulted the first time you get drunk.

Ladies, talk to me about your '90s feelings. Who were your celebrity crushes? Is there a word for that particular adolescent desire to be desired, not even by anyone in particular?

Sunday, June 2, 2013

My new favorite thing

is this eye shadow palette I got for $5 at T.J. Maxx:


Isn't it beauteous? It's the e.l.f. "Little Black Beauty Book (warm edition)." Like my 64-pack of crayons, the pleasure I'm getting from this is as much purely aesthetic as it is functional, meaning, using them will be great (I've dipped into two shades so far; you can the surface of the medium brown one up from the bottom in the far-right row on the left-hand panel is marred) but I really just like looking at them. Colors! I might just attack that aqua at two over, three down when I head out to Jazz in the Park later today. That's the other thing about this palette, it makes me feel like I'm playing Battleship.

I have a confession to make: I have a T.J.Maxx problem. About once every six weeks I can't resist driving to T.J.Maxx (the one I go to is like 8 miles away, which makes it feel all the more illicit) and blowing like $100 on fancy hand soap and other sundry crap. The last time I went, it was more like $200 – I found some great Paige jeans and the floral Tahari dress that I wore to my "wedding," both heavily marked down but still somewhat expensive. Yesterday, in addition to my summery Battleship palette, I got some gold leather flip-flops ($12!), red glitter nail polish in a shade called "Merry Me" ($3) and a bagful of fancy soaps-n-crap, including a big tube of Bliss body butter in the vanilla bergamot scent.

I bring this up for smell people, because I think the Bliss body butters have the best scents of any body products I've tried (excluding beauty product versions of actual perfumes). I also own the blood orange & white pepper and lemon & sage scents, but the vanilla bergamot is remarkable in particular because I normally revile vanilla scents in lotion. What you get here is complex enough to be a real perfume – the bergamot is actually bitter! And the vanilla isn't too sweet – it has nuances of licorice and root beer. Would you believe: It kind of smells like a slice out of Shalimar. You might need to get some.