the irony of piñatas

May 26, 2009

1.

This is a paparazzi picture of the birthday party which was the central scene of the much-hyped season premiere of Jon and Kate Plus 8.  The best moment in the episode was this moment in which the titular Kate was talking about the piñatas that she had bought for the birthday party, an activity which was covered to the point of exhaustion — there was some video early in the episode of her visiting a party supply store to buy the piñatas, upset because she was being photographed in the parking lot by a band of paparazzi (she had instructed her children to call them “the P people” in the belief that calling them by their actual names was giving them too much power, kind of like He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named in that children’s book) and this scene was followed later by a rendering of her at home that evening, sprawled across her dining room table with the just-bought party supplies, exhausted and alone and on the verge of tears but still and always monologuing for the ever present cameras as she stuffed mounds and mounds of candy into the asses of the piñatas for the birthday party the next day, stuffed them full to bursting with contents, and then later in the episode at the party itself, there was some additional coverage of Kate stressing over and then figuring out the perfect tree from which to hang the piñatas so as to offer the most aesthetically pleasing piñata bashing experience to her children and their guests and the TV audience and then finally, near the end of the episode, we actually get to see the footage of the little kids at the party swinging their little sticks at these representations of animals hanging from a big tree branch in front of them, the little kids quickly and happily destroying the shells in order to get at the things inside, reducing these sculptured simulations of birds and bears to pulp because that’s what they’re supposed to do to have fun and as we see this, we hear the anonymous, post-production voice of a producer telling Kate that she “looks like she had fun when she was ripping that pinata open” and, over footage of her gleefully ripping into the paper-mache flesh and distributing the candy and glitter and toys to the children, we hear her say, “Oh yes, it was good, good frustration relief, yes, I was just tearing into them,”  and then the camera cuts from the party scene to the the talking head we’ve returned to again and again throughout the episode, the image of Kate sitting alone in a big chair in the Potemkin living room built in her basement, and she says, “But, you know, the irony of piñatas — every time I do piñatas, I think this — so you love your characters, you have this little character birthday party and you get the cute little Backyardigans…and then you beat them to death.  Like, it’s so violent. If you think about it, like, the one year we had Elmo, and we like beat Elmo to death! You’re not supposed to beat Elmo! I don’t get it! It’s so weird!” and she laughs at this, yukking it up at her own joke like it’s the beginning of a Seinfeld rerun or something, like, “What’s the deal with piñatas?” and etc., and she doesn’t seem to relate this to herself at all and understand that it’s really the best possible metaphor for what she’s going through at this very moment on her television show and in her life (since they’re the same thing), the building up of a character and then the destroying of that character by the same process, and it’s really ironic to see her not getting it, not verbal irony like she’s using in her stand-up routine but dramatic irony, the way a person can be so self conscious and yet not understand fundamental things about herself that we can understand by watching her, but besides all that what was maybe most poignant thing about the fifth birthday party shown in the season premiere was that the focal point of the party for Kate, the central, key moment of the experience for her was the moment when and she and Jon and the kids took a family portrait together — like, amid all of these representations of them being created every second of this birthday party by paparazzi cameras across the street and the digital and cell phone cameras of her children’s friends’ parents and the video cameras shooting their reality television show, each one adding to the probably thousands of hours of video and thousands of images which already exist of her family just existing, amid all the stress and tension created by this recording and photographing and representing, the stress and tension which seems to be one of the major factors destroying Kate’s relationship with her husband, still, the most important part of the fifth birthday party experience for her was taking a traditional family portrait, a single photograph, creating yet another representation of her reality, which I just found so amazing, the way I find it whenever I see people on reality shows taking pictures of their lives, I just find it so interesting, this way that we have of privileging certain representations over other ones, and like it kind of reminds me of how Susan said that “photographs may be more memorable than moving images, because they are a neat slice of time, not a flow.  Television is a stream of underselected images, each of which cancels its predecessor.  Each still photograph is a privileged moment, turned into a slim object that one can keep and look at again,” like how amid all of these moments being captured of Kate and her children and her husband, all this recorded time, she still felt that it was up to her to capture a decisive moment, that this was the most important thing she could do at this birthday party, not exist or experience life but record her existence and experience of life, that the essential thing that she had to do was hang a frame on a moment in the hope that, by virtue of its medium, the frame could carry more weight than the all video being taken at the same time, could erase more unhappiness, could conjure more nostalgia and recreate more love and simulate more warmth, that this one little frame could do more than a million frames of a moving picture, two million frames, like that was the big wish that Kate had for this little portrait, an ordinary picture taken with an ordinary camera at an ordinary picnic table like any other in America, Jon and Kate and their kids sitting in between them on the bench seat, and before the picture was to be taken he was wearing sunglasses and she told him to take them off and he did and then they sat there and they smiled for a second and it was captured, one frame, that’s all.  You just have to hope that nobody blinked and ruined it.

2.

This is a clip reel from the tape of my fourth birthday party.  My fourth birthday party, as you can see, was very well covered by a crew of two cameramen as well as several still photographers.  The tape has that weird, unintentionally meta quality of most home video: the constant direct address of the camera, the discussion of shots and positions and focus, the crash zooms, the play with the lens, all of it anti-cinematic in the best way, totally Dogme ’89.  Personally, I don’t like watching old home movies of myself and even though the rest of my family loves watching home movies and even though reality television is my favorite kind of television.  I like seeing videos of other people, of course — one night in college, a roommate and I broke my VCR watching his girlfriend’s home movies from when she was a little girl and our concern was not for the broken VCR but just getting her tape out of it safely so we could watch the rest of video somewhere else — but I hate watching videos of myself, I’m not sure completely why.  I guess maybe part of it is because in the videos I see myself doing or saying embarrassing or unpleasant things, things the current Me doesn’t agree with or like, because I see me talking or acting in ways I wish I didn’t talk or act, and I feel such a connection with this character that I’m watching on the screen (because, you know, it’s me) that when I see these wrong things, I want to edit myself, change the script, but I can’t because of course the moment’s over and done, and that disconnected connection and the lack of agency I feel is frustrating and maybe why I don’t really enjoy watching.  Like, you know, some people enjoy watching old home movies because they can look into the past for a minute and happily remember how things were once, see the representations in hte moviews as records disconnected from the now, carousels and not wheels, but for me what they kind of do is remind me that the past is over and I can’t change it and I have to live with the way it is now because of all the things I did then and after and before, the ways I was, and there’s something about that which is maybe hard for me to deal with.

There’s this thing a lot people do on Facebook where they make it so their profile pictures are not current likenesses but instead are old pictures of them when they were children, soft focus settings of miniature versions of themselves from years and years ago, tiny people wearing wearing tiny clothes and making tiny faces.  Some people post entire albums of their baby pictures, some of them have as many pictures of them as children as they have of themselves now.  Even though I don’t like seeing myself as a child and have never put up such pictures online, I can identify with this impulse, and I don’t think it just has to do my generation’s insane nostalgia or cuteness fetishism, I think it’s more basic than that, like, it’s a way for insecure people (which, of course, is most/all of us) to broadcast to others that they were once less spoiled by life and age and experience, that there are extant versions of themselves that haven’t lied or cheated or fucked people over, that aren’t self conscious or insecure or petty or jaded or insert your problems here, that are in some ways better than they are now, more complete, so that putting these childhood pictures in the place of their current likenesses is a way for these sad people to say to others, like, basically, “I’m not perfect, I know, but look at this different thing I once was a long time ago and try to find me in it, please,” hoping that the other people seeing the pictures will connect the dots between the old and new, pixel by pixel, and that this process of connecting will make the subject more a little more beautiful and complex and worthy of love.  I guess that’s a lot of hope to pin on a representation, but then hope and representations are things that we always seem to have an abundance of even in times that are dark.

Advertisements

intheknow

hiroshima gift shop

May 21, 2009

This video is called “Hiroshima Gift Shop” and it’s about Leni Riefenstahl’s ghost having a nightmare while waiting for the American Idol finale to come  back from commercial.  I never thought Alessandra Stanley’s criticism would inspire anything in me other than frustration, but her American Idol recap, besides making an interesting point  about AI as a cultural institution, reminded me of last night’s long, bizarre State Farm commercial soundtracked by the Jackson 5 and I’d had this Leni Riefenstahl interview clip that I’ve wanted to use since I did that post with clips from ‘Olympia’ and so I made this (please watch in HQ).  The cutting is kind of sloppy and scene selection and everything could have been done better but I just wanted to execute it quickly since this idea will mean nothing to anyone by the end of the week and, regardless of the quality, I think it’s worth a watch if only for the match cut from the marathon runner to the woman chasing the boxcar.

Yesterday, Teen Vogue released an excerpt of Lauren’s novel “L.A. Candy,” which is due out on June 17th.  This is an annotation of that excerpt.  (If you prefer, here’s a Word document which is slightly easier to read.)

In this exclusive excerpt from Lauren Conrad’s debut novel, heroine Jane Roberts moves to Hollywood and ends up the star of her own reality show.

Jane[1] checked her watch as she rushed out of the elevator, into the world of soft lighting and trickling waterfalls.[2] She had an excuse for being late this time, though. She’d spent most of the morning running errands for Fiona. Plus, the L.A. Candy crew was following her around for the rest of the day. They had intercepted her in the parking lot[3], miked her, and filmed her getting out of her car and walking to the lobby of the building. Five times. Now they were setting up in the front waiting area of Fiona Chen Events[4], filming her “arriving for work.”[5]

“Hi, Naomi!” Jane said, waving to the receptionist. She tried to speak at the usual accepted low decibel, but she knew that would only guarantee her a text message from Dana telling her to say it again, a little louder. [6]

Naomi adjusted her silver headset and peered out at Jane from behind a huge bouquet of white tulips. She glanced self-consciously at the two camera guys zooming in on her. “Hi, Jane. Fiona wants to see you in her office right away,” she whispered[7].

Jane felt her blood freeze. [8] Fiona never called Jane into her office unless she was in trouble. It was always something like, “Jane, the last time I checked, ivory and eggshell weren’t the same color,” or “Jane, is this message from Jeffrey with a J or Geoffrey with a G[9]?” What had she done this time? Either way, she preferred that her humiliating lectures take place in private—just her and Fiona behind closed doors. Guess not today. She frowned at the cameras, which were supposed to be capturing “an average workday.” Well, now, the L.A. Candy viewers are going to see my average butt getting yelled at, Jane thought. [10]

She sighed and started down the hall toward Fiona’s office.

“Wait! Jane!” A man wearing an earpiece rushed up to her. “Hey, I’m Matt. I’m directing today’s shoot.”

What did he mean, directing? She thought they were just following her around. What needed to be directed?[11]

“Hey. Sorry, Naomi said Fiona wants to talk to me.”

“Yeah, we know. We just need a few minutes to set up,” Matt explained, moving to the side as several crew members carrying cameras and other equipment passed them. “Her office looks beautiful, but it’s all white. Makes it hard to shoot. They spent two hours lighting it this morning,” Matt went on.

“What’s wrong with white?” Jane asked.

“It just doesn’t look great on camera. Color looks way better.”

Jane looked down at the summery white lace dress she was wearing. Crap, she thought[12].

“Okay, you can go in now,” Matt instructed Jane as he stepped away from the door.

Jane knocked lightly before going inside. Fiona looked up from her computer screen. “Good morning, Jane! Please come in and sit down.” She sounded more pleasant than usual. She must enjoy humiliating people, Jane thought.

As she stepped into Fiona’s office, Jane looked around. Two metal stands securing large lights flanked Fiona’s desk. The intensity of the lights was muted by wide sheets of what looked like tracing paper wrapped around the fixtures and held in place by wooden clothespins. The same kind of paper had been taped over one of the tall windows. The result was an overall softening of the lighting in the room.[13]

Jane sat down in one of the chairs. Fiona clasped her hands and leaned forward. “So. Jane. You’re probably wondering why I called you in here today.”

Jane nodded, her eyes wide.

“I realize you’ve been here at Fiona Chen Events[14] for only a short time,” Fiona said. “But during that short time, you’ve—”

—managed to screw up just about everything I’ve asked you to do, Jane finished silently.

“—handled the pressure very well. I think it’s time for you to move up to the next step. To that end, I would like to offer you a promotion. How would you like to be my full-time assistant?”

Jane’s jaw dropped. Was she serious? Fiona was offering her … [15]a promotion[16]?

“Of course, it will be strictly on a trial basis,” Fiona went on. “Let’s say three months. During those three months, you will work harder than you have ever worked before. At the same time, you will have opportunities that you have never had before. And if you succeed, your future as an event planner in this town will be virtually guaranteed.”[17]

Fiona leaned back in her seat and stared at Jane, waiting for her answer. Suddenly, Jane noticed that Fiona was wearing makeup. When had the boss lady[18] started wearing makeup?

“Well, Jane?” Fiona prompted her.

The camera zoomed in on Jane. [19] She took a deep breath. Was she ready for this? A real job was better than an internship because it meant she would get paid. It also meant that she would get more responsibilities, more respect … more everything.[20]

“Yes!” Jane said, nodding. “I’d love to. Thank you so much!”

Fiona smiled. It was not her usual chilly, arctic, I-am-the-boss-lady-and-you-are-my-slave smile, but a cordial, friendly smile. It didn’t look entirely natural on her. “Fabulous! Let me show you where you’ll be sitting.”[21]

Jane opened the bottom drawer of her new desk and tucked her bag inside. She opened the two others, too—each drawer had a different vintage crystal knob—and started planning what would go where. The top drawer would be for pencils, pens, and stationery. The middle drawer would be for energy bars, breath mints, makeup, tampons, and other personal stuff. [22]

She still couldn’t believe it. She had walked into Fiona’s office expecting to get reprimanded. Instead, she had gotten promoted. In her computer monitor, she saw the reflection of one of the camera operators changing angles behind her. She felt bad for him. He was edged up into the corner and had no space to move. “Roomy back there?” Jane teased. The guy shrugged and laughed a little.

“Excuse me.”

Jane spun around. Standing in the doorway was a guy with short, cropped blond hair and blue eyes[23]. He was carrying a big, sleek leather portfolio[24].

“Hi,” Jane said, a little startled.

“Hey, there,” the guy said. “I’m looking for Fiona Chen, but I think I got lost. I have an appointment to show her my portfolio.”

“Across the hall,” Jane said, pointing. “She actually has someone in there … you may want to wait a minute.”

“I’m sorry. The girl at the front told me to come straight back.”

“Oh, no worries. She just pulled someone in there for a sec. Some mix-up with peonies. He’ll be out in a minute[25] … a little less of a man.”

The guy laughed. “I’m Paolo.”

“You a model?” Jane asked, pointing at the portfolio in his hand.

Paolo laughed again. “No, no. I’m a photographer.”

“Oh!”

Paolo smiled at her. He had the cutest smile. “Hey, this may be a little forward, but … could I call you sometime? Maybe we could go out for coffee or something? I just moved here from San Francisco, and I don’t know too many people in town.”[26]

Jane was taken aback by his boldness. They had met all of 60 seconds ago. Still, he did kinda look like a young Brad Pitt[27]. Besides, when was the last time she’d been on a date? Braden didn’t count. She had met him for drinks[28] again at Cabo Cantina over the weekend, to celebrate her being on the show and moving in to a new apartment. It had been his idea. But that wasn’t a date. It never was with him.[29] “Sure,” she said.

“Great!”

Jane blinked. Oh, yeah. The cameras were still rolling. Paolo was being filmed. But he didn’t seem fazed by it. Did that mean he had walked into her office knowing there would be cameras? Had Dana talked to him already and gotten him to sign the release papers? Had she told him to ask her out? Or did he just happen to be there for a meeting, like he said?[30]

Just then, Fiona’s door opened and Damien, an intern, shuffled out and shamefully dropped his head.

“I’ll grab your number on the way out,” Paolo said before he disappeared into Fiona’s office.

“Okay.”

Despite just meeting him, Jane couldn’t help but be excited. She looked past the camera in the hallway and spotted Dana. Jane grinned and mouthed, “He’s so cute!” Dana nodded in agreement and gave her a thumbs-up. [31] Jane noticed a release form in Dana’s hand. Did that mean Paolo had been released? Did that mean it had been a setup? Jane smiled to herself as she realized she didn’t care. [32] She was already thinking about what to wear on what might turn out to be her very first on-camera date …. her first date, period, since Caleb. Okay, so Paolo wasn’t Braden. So what? It was nice to have a guy interested in her. It had been a long time. Too long.

From L.A. Candy (HarperCollins), available June 16 wherever books are sold.


[1] So Lauren has chosen “Jane” as the name for her literary doppelganger.  Personally, I would’ve chosen “Laura” or “Lauren” for the identity confusion it would offer, but Jane is also good, I guess, and maybe Lauren is so tired of the meta-play of The Hills that she’s not really wanting to get lost in the funhouse in her novel; she’d just as soon get out.  The obvious literary reference that Jane brings to mind is Austen and Lauren as seen on The Hills (and thus, I guess, in real life) is this almost painfully true-to-form painful Jane Austen heroine, more Lizzie Bennett that Lizzie Bennett herself, so this reference is actually fitting without even thinking about The Hills focus on the minutiae of social codes and interactions and how this relates to Austen.  Maybe this is Lauren’s symbolic way of acknowledging this connection, of sort of Being Jane, a movie I couldn’t make it through despite Anne Hathaway, thought it was admittedly much better than The Jane Austen Book Club, though anything is better than The Jane Austen Book Club, which was so so full of horribly annoying (to me) and poorly rendered middle-aged-woman-empowerment-moments (like even more nauseatingly Lifetime-y than Diane Lane in Under The Tuscan Sun) that it was unwatchable (yet I still watched it).

[2] Do events companies often have multiple water features in their offices?  I’m just asking.

[3] I like the idea of the crew of the TV show being an antagonizing force.  Not only is this true to Lauren’s experience (see the behind the scenes special where the producers force themselves into her taxi on New Year’s Eve as she’s crying after leaving her boyfriend) but it adds something extra for the writer to play with, in terms of narrative complications maybe but more importantly in terms of interesting things for the narrator to perceive and think about, the way that the obsessions with Work and Literary Ambition propelled The Devil Wears Prada away from the chicklit clichés of boys and bags and shoes to something deeper and more resonant.

[4] Interesting that Lauren here is avoiding having her heroine work at a teen fashion magazine (and thus cleverly avoiding the clichés of the chicklit protagonist working in publishing, a really common trope from Bridget Jones’s Diary to TDWP to a whole strew of lesser imitators, including the currently airing and abysmal CBC by way of Soapnet series Being Erica which I caught the other weekend and which ugh) but instead splices in the job that Heidi did, working at an events company.  This leads me to the tangent that if Lauren is really serious about writing she should eventually do a book Two Girls Fat and Thin style, alternating sections between a Lauren character and a Heidi character. (The substitution of Fiona Chen for Brent Bolthouse I will talk about in a second.)

[5] This use of ironic quotes is a good choice.

[6] This is what I’m talking about with the narrator having things to think about.  Worrying about whether her mic is going to pick what she’s saying instead of ordinary shit like whether she looks fat, filtering her consciousness through this external thing, this is exactly what will set this character apart from the norm.

[7] The use of a dialogue tag like “whispered” is an annoying genre fiction thing; I hope there won’t be much “shouting” or “screaming” or “yelling.”  I also don’t necessarily like that “Naomi” is self conscious about the cameras, too  – I feel like the self consciousness should be Jane’s “thing” alone, something that defines her as a character and keeps her at a distance from the others,.  Also, this shared self-consciousness creates this camaraderie that I think is bad for the dramatic tension.  The protagonist should feel isolated and have to find her way to community and relationships — I’m thinking specifically of the way that Bella is disconnected from others at the beginning of Twilight and never really manages to make real friendships with the other girls in her class.

[8] Is this possible?

[9] These are really weak, PG-rated copies of insults said by Meryl Streep playing Miranda Priestly who was a copy of Anna Wintour written by Lauren Weisberger.  The second line in particular – if you’re calling the person back, why would that even matter?

[10] This is a place where free indirect discourse would yield a less distracting paragraph ending than “Jane thought” – for example: “An average workday?  All the L.A. Candy viewers were going to see was Jane’s average butt getting yelled at.”

[11] This is a thread which definitely has potential.  I just keep thinking of a teenage girl’s version of Remainder.

[12] Again, we don’t need a thought tag.  All it does is break the illusion of the narrative by reminding us unnecessarily that we’re reading a novel.

[13] Note that we’ve not yet been given any real visual details about the space or the characters inhabiting it – this is our first real physical description of the space we’re in, besides the aforementioned “waterfalls.”  Maybe it makes sense that Naomi and Fiona aren’t described, since this is obviously a mid-book excerpt, although the fact that Matt is given no identifying descriptors is kind of an annoying function of bad YA prose.  I realize that he isn’t an important character but must he be completely formless and void?

[14] Fiona Chen Events?  This is a really awful name for a company.  At least “Brent Bolthouse” has some fratty dynamism to it.  It’s an interesting move for Lauren to make her Anna Wintour/Lisa Love figure Asian – I’m not sure quite what to make of it.  I think for the majority of her audience it would be more “comfortable” and less “icky” to have the bitchy authority figure be an older white woman, but this is, um, progress?  No, probably just tokenism, or, even more likely, “Hey, that’s a name!”

[15] Jane really likes ellipses…

[16] Of course a novel inspired by The Hills would have to include a scene with a character meeting her boss and thinking she’s in trouble but then out of the blue receiving a promotion or other fantastic gift.  What’s interesting about this scene is how much flatter it is in print than in its televisual equivalent.  This is mostly due to the lack of sensory detail present in the scene: we can’t see Lisa Love’s craggy gravitas or Lauren’s panicked flop sweats, they’re  visual imagery that this minimal YA prose can’t give us.  Sensory detail is what inflates scenes on The Hills and makes them seem like more than they are – without it, this scene feels rote and rushed and offers none of the emotional payoff of the TV show.  No mimesis, ma’am.

[17] Do teenage girls today really dream of being event planners?  Is this a proper aspirational career for our audience?  I don’t know, I don’t really think so.  I saw an MTV True Life once which was like “I’m Lower Middle Class And Live Outside of Manhattan But Am Commuting to Manhattan To Fulfill My Dreams” (I don’t remember the exact title) and in that there was a young woman who was trying to work in PR, but still, this seems like a weird job for a twelve year old to be fixating on.  I mean, I’m not expecting Harriet the Spy here but event planning, really?

[18] “Boss lady”?  What a weird, dissonant term.  Is this some sort of slavery narrative, a postcolonial inversion in which the ethnic minority is in the position of power and the rich white intern girl is the slave?

[19] This is trippy and the unintentional perspective shift is annoying and also unrealistic – would she really be aware of lenses zooming at this pivotal moment?  The Hills is a show which is made for the third person perspective (no talking heads, etc.), yet after reading Twilight I feel that if Lauren really wanted to write a good book instead of just making money, she should be writing in the first person.  Even if this writing was good, like some YA Robbe-Grillet, it would still be a literary imitation which paled in comparison to the sensory splendor of The Hills for the reasons previously discussed – it’s like The Hills with no music to tell us how to feel.  After reading Twilight, I’m convinced that Lauren could do a self conscious, sarcastic Bella Swan character who, through the use of the first person, could reveal things about herself that the audience would actually like to know, but obviously that’s not what we have here.

[20] This kind of vague rendering of a preschool-level thought process is an example of why it’s good for Jane to have the reality show stuff to think about instead of just the fluffy clouds floating around inside her brain.

[21] I assume there’ll be a page break after this in the actual book.

[22] These are excellent specific details.  This is the kind of thing there should be more of.  Not only are these specific details that put our narrator’s head in a concrete, physical place that reveals something about her character, but also these are the kind of details that can be mirrored by the YA reader – this desk arranging is an activity that the reader can transpose into her own life, imagine doing or pretend to do herself, deepening her connection with the world of the narrative.

[23] This description, which is the most detailed physical description in the excerpt, is indicative of the poverty of language visited upon us by bad YA genre lit.  Like, this is not even mug-shot level imagery, much less a true literary description.  There’s no poetry, there’s no emotional component, there’s no hint of “Jane’s” feelings or thoughts, it’s just this bland, vague physical description.  Say what you want about Twilight but at least Stephenie Meyer makes an effort.  Compare Lauren’s “a guy with short, cropped blond hair and blue eyes” to SM’s “a gangly boy with skin problems and hair black as an oil slick leaned across the aisle to talk to me…an overly helpful, chess club type” and that’s just a minor character that the narrator is disgusted by, not anywhere near a possible love interest like Edward, who is painted with an absurd amount of descriptive (purple) prose.  Even when SM’s physical descriptions are minimal, they still carry an emotional component that reveals something about the narrator: “They were two girls, one a porcelain-colored blonde, the other also pale, with light brown hair. At least my skin wouldn’t be a standout here.”  It’s no wonder her books are so popular if this kind of writing is the alternative available to young girls.

[24] This sentence and the subsequent section are much more fun to read if you substitute “penis” for “portfolio.”

[25] I hate…the overuse…of ellipses.

[26] So this excerpt is pretty evenly split between a “work” segment and a “life” segment, a mixture which will likely stand in the book as a whole.  The point of releasing an excerpt like this is to create a sort of micro-representation of the book, a saleable nugget to whet the readerly appetites of potential buyers.  I find the choice to release this particular section as an excerpt to be puzzling, though, since it’s completely lacking in dramatic tension.  In the work segment, “Jane” meets her boss for about sixty seconds and gets a promotion that she doesn’t deserve out of nowhere and in the life segment, a boy who looks like a young Brad Pitt talks to her for sixty seconds and then asks her to go on a date with him out of nowhere.  It’s pure fantasy, there’s no real sense of trouble or problems or, you know, “drama.”  There’s no sense of the character having an agency – Lauren doesn’t do anything, she is done to by the other characters.  Contrast this with the emo fireworks of the standalone first chapter of Twilight in which Bella sarcastically describes the future love which will bring her to the brink of death, the cattiness and evil hijinks I’m assuming fills most chapters of Gossip Girl, or the excerpt Random House released for TDWP, which perfectly captures in small that book’s manic obsession with work and gives us an enticing sketch of the relationship between the two main characters to boot.  This story of Jane living this fairytale life with maybe some minor annoyance caused by the camera crews gives us none of those things.  Even if you’re in it for the “fantasy,” why would you read a book about a person who has no problems?

[27] Is Brad Pitt really a reference point for “hotness” for young teenage girls today?  What movie have they seen him in?  Brangelina wasn’t really a phenomenon for them, was it, weren’t they too young?

[28] I’m not that familiar with contemporary YA lit, but is it appropriate to mention drinking and have it be something which is normal and acceptable to do alone with boys and carries no stigma or Scared Straight plot twist?

[29] Despite Lauren’s assurance that the book is “in no way calling anyone out,” it seems pretty obvious that “Braden” will prove to be a composite of “Brody” and “Stephen” the two non-heroes in Lauren’s real life.

[30] This is by far the most promising part of this excerpt and if this book is anything beyond genre sludge, it’ll be because of this.  This focus on the effect that being filmed has on the way you perceive the world, how it makes it difficult to trust people and to trust yourself, to truly be yourself, the stress it puts on your relationships, the way the line between performance and existence is eroded: this is what makes Lauren’s story unique and what has the potential to make Jane’s story unique, too.

[31] This relationship between Jane and her producer could be great for the story, as long as it’s suffused with equal parts love and hate, antagonism and affection, and not in the clumsy way this is juggled in the excerpt.  Lauren has talked often of her affection for the crew but has also talked about how difficult it is to be filmed all of the time by them – this ambiguity is what needs to be rendered in the relationship with Dana.  I’m thinking of the model created in the amazing and unjustly forgotten Lisa Kudrow vehicle The Comeback, in which Laura Silverman plays a reality show director who is constantly filming Valerie (Kudrow’s character) and who seems to truly care about her, but also cares just as much about getting footage of her worst moments.  Maybe Fiona Chen is just a distraction, maybe she isn’t the important older female character at all.  Maybe instead the other important female figure is “Dana,” who controls the constant zooming of the cameras and decides who will be “released” and who won’t.

[32] This sentence is the reason the book will be horrible.  I understand the plot necessity of burying the lede here so that when Paolo does turn out to be an actor or model cast by Dana to date Lauren, it’ll be a shock and horror and et cetera, but the idea that Jane can just instantly and completely blank out all of her worry and stress and self consciousness and “not care,” that is the kiss of death for the character.  This is not the Lauren Conrad I know and identify with, the Lauren Conrad the girls who form the audience for this book know and identify with, the Lauren Conrad who obsesses and freaks out and holds grudges and who always, even at her lightest and happiest moments, has angst and tension burning under her celebrity skin.  Lauren Conrad does not “not care.”  A character really based on Lauren Conrad could be this ultimate super-self conscious yet relatable chick lit heroine, I think, but this character is not that, this is purely adaptation as a form of flattery, all surface, no depth.  I realize that this is a YA book, but like I said, the audience for L.A. Candy is the audience for Twilight, I would assume, and that book, for all its faults, sets a standard for prose and voice and description and the realistic rendering of incident that this book has no hope of coming anywhere near.  However annoying and pathetic Bella Swan can be, her consciousness lives on the page and feels true. The fact that Jane is able to just forget her troubles and go on, fun and fancy free: well, this is certainly more fake than real and not in a good way.

biographical fallacy

May 15, 2009

As previously implied, I’ve really been enjoying all of the long-form magazine reviews of the recently published first volume of Beckett’s letters.  I’ll probably never read Beckett’s letters myself, partially since there’s no promise of any minimalist mash notes to Peggy Guggenheim but also because, as previously implied, I have enough unhappiness in my life as it stands.  Still, I like to read smart people talking about interesting books and things and stuff in long-form magazine reviews so I’ve read a lot of the reviews of Beckett’s letters and enjoyed them.  Tonight, I read John Banville’s review of Beckett’s letters, “The Word-Stormer,” in The New Republic, which I saw linked to in a post on metafilter.  I read “The Word-Stormer” and I enjoyed it, although maybe not as much as I enjoyed other long-form magazine reviews of Beckett’s letters, such as Coetzee’s “The Making of Samuel Beckett” in the NYRB or Anthony Lane’s review in the New Yorker (which includes an abso. adorabs line describing Beckett as “a lecturer in English at the École Normale Supérieure, which is far more superior than normal” — zing!).  The post I read which linked to the Banville review also linked to several of Banville’s other essays on Beckett and, eager to read more sourced summaries of Beckett’s genius rather than making another go at The Unnamable myself, I clicked through and began to read one of Banville’s older essays, a piece from the New York Review of Books entitled “The Painful Comedy of Samuel Beckett.” Only…I’d already read it?

1.

From Banville’s November 14, 1996 review of several Beckett biographies in The New York Review of Books, “The Painful Comedy of Samuel Beckett“:

Samuel Barclay Beckett was born in Foxrock, a well-to-do suburb of Dublin, on Good Friday, April 13, 1906. His birth certificate (incidentally, what a Beckettian notion it is that a human being should have a certificate attesting to his birth!) records the date as May 13, which has led many people to assume that Beckett was lying about the correct date in order to invest the moment of his entry into “this bitch of a world” with the spurious portentousness of religious and superstitious connotations. Cronin is neutral in the matter, though he is inclined to think the confusion was the result of error rather than Beckett’s pretensions. Knowlson, however, has verified the Good Friday date by the simple expedient of checking the “Births and Deaths” column of The Irish Times – and who could doubt that august organ?

From Banville’s May 20, 2009 review of Beckett’s letters in The New Republic, “The Word-Stormer“:

Samuel Barclay Beckett was born in Foxrock, a well-to-do suburb of Dublin, on Good Friday, April 13, 1906. His birth certificate records the date as May 13, which has led some commentators to believe that Beckett was lying about the correct date in order to invest the moment of his entry into “this bitch of a world” with the spurious portentousness of religious and superstitious connotations. But James Knowlson, in Damned to Fame, his superb and definitive biography of Beckett, verified the Good Friday date by the simple expedient of checking the Births and Deaths column of The Irish Times.

2.

The subsequent paragraph and quotation, from “The Painful Comedy of Samuel Beckett”:

The Becketts, of Huguenot descent, were a prosperous Protestant family who had made their money in the building trade. In describing their class, Cronin quotes the Irish critic Vivian Mercier to good effect:

The males and some of the females of the typical Protestant family took the train every weekday to office, school or university in Dublin. In all these places they were likely to be associating almost exclusively with fellow Protestants. The females who stayed at home spent their leisure time with other Protestant ladies, though their maids and gardeners were usually Catholic. If one preferred to think of oneself as English there was really no reason not to.

However, in one of numerous instances where Cronin shows to advantage his native grasp of the subtleties of Irish life, he cautions against misconceptions, pointing out that “to call this class Anglo-Irish and to lump it in with the Protestant land-owning aristocracy – the class to which Yeats affected to belong and to which J. M. Synge and Lady Gregory actually did – is to create considerable confusion.” The Becketts and the few other families with whom they associated were hardy, assured, comfortable members of the professional middle class; they were survivors who would successfully weather the storms of revolution and civil war that battered the country in the first twenty-five years of this century.

The subsequent paragraph and quotation, from “The Word-Stormer”:

The Becketts, of Huguenot descent, were a prosperous Protestant family who had their money from the building trade. They and the few other families with whom they associated were hardy, assured, comfortable members of the professional middle class; they were survivors who would successfully weather the storms of revolution and civil war that battered the country in the first twenty-five years of the twentieth century. Writing of the caste to which Beckett, whether he liked it or not, belonged, the Irish critic Vivian Mercier is perceptive:

The males and some of the females of the typical Protestant family took the train every weekday to office, school or university in Dublin. In all these places they were likely to be associating almost exclusively with fellow Protestants. The females who stayed at home spent their leisure time with other Protestant ladies, though their maids and gardeners were usually Catholic. If one preferred to think of oneself as English there was really no reason not to.

3.

Subsequent paragraphs in the same section, from “The Painful Comedy of Samuel Beckett”:

The house in which Beckett was born, Cooldrinagh, was a spacious structure standing in its own ample grounds (it was sold again earlier this year for half a million pounds); life there was comfortable, ordered, and stultifying, and Beckett had a sheltered but not unhappy childhood. His mother, May, was a loving but stern, brooding woman given to unpredictable fits of anger followed by lengthy bouts of depression, behavior which roughened the tranquil life of Cooldrinagh. Beckett, like so many other Irishmen, was deeply attached to his mother in a classic love-hate relationship that was to endure long after her death; his later decision to settle permanently in France, and to write in French, seemed as much a flight from mother as from the motherland. Beckett’s father, Bill, a bluff, vigorous, kindly man whom Beckett loved very much, was a surveyor with offices in Clare Street, near the back gate of Trinity College. Both parents figure throughout Beckett’s work, emblematic of loss, of constraint, of mortality, and of the power and limits of love.

Beckett attended Portora Royal School in County Fermanagh in what was, after partition in 1920, to become Northern Ireland; Oscar Wilde had also been a pupil there, a fact not much boasted of by the school authorities in those strait-laced times. Young Samuel, or Sam, was a brilliant student and a keen sportsman, starring on the school’s cricket eleven and playing on the rugby team in his final two years there, hard as it is to imagine Beckett in a rugby scrum. From Portora he made the natural progression to Trinity College, Dublin, where his main interest was French literature, from the Troubadors to the Moderns. He studied under Thomas Rudmose-Brown, professor of Romance languages. Beckett was much favored by “Ruddy” who, he said, “opened all kinds of doors for me.” Knowlson writes

[secondary quotation redacted for clarity]

Ruddy brought a whiff of luxe, calme, et volupte to the sober corridors of Trinity – the parties he gave for students Beckett later described as “very sexy” – but he was also a strong scholarly and literary influence on Beckett to whom he introduced modern French authors such as Proust, Gide, and Larbaud. Beckett immersed himself in the French masters, especially Racine, an enthusiasm which would register strongly later on in his own work for the stage. He also read widely in Italian literature – Dante was to be his companion throughout his life – and also read the great German philosophers, finding Schopenhauer particularly congenial.

Subsequent paragraphs in the same section, from “The Word-Stormer”:

The house in which Beckett was born, Cooldrinagh, was a spacious edifice standing on its own ample grounds. Life there was comfortable, ordered, and stultifying, and Beckett had a sheltered and happy, or at least not unhappy, childhood. He attended Portora Royal School in County Fermanagh in what was to become, after partition in 1920, Northern Ireland; Oscar Wilde had also been a pupil there, a fact not much boasted of by the school authorities in those strait-laced times. From Portora he made the natural progression to Trinity College, Dublin, where his main interest was French literature, from the Troubadors to the Moderns.

At Trinity he studied under Thomas Rudmose-Brown, professor of Romance languages. Beckett was much favored by “Ruddy,” who brought a whiff of luxe et volupte–if not much calme, as he seems to have been an excitable fellow–to the sober corridors of Trinity; he was also a serious scholarly and literary influence on Beckett, whom he introduced to modern French authors such as Proust and Gide. Beckett immersed himself in the French masters, especially Racine, an enthusiasm that would register strongly later on in his own work for the stage. He also read widely in Italian literature and in the great German philosophers, finding Schopenhauer particularly congenial, which is hardly a surprise.

I could go on, but I won’t go on (LOLBeckett).  An automated analysis reports that there’s a 21% copy rate from one essay to the next, although that seems slightly inflated by the presence of identical quotations as well as some nitpicking.  I don’t put all of this here in such bright and shining color to “call out” John Banville; one can hardly be accused of plagiarizing oneself, right?  (Although I guess The New Republic might not see it that way, depending on what they’re paying him for each of his copied and pasted words.)  I think, though, that in light of Banville’s subject matter, there’s another way to read the situation, maybe one that’s slightly less disheartening or is at least disheartening in an appropriately Beckettian way.  Sure, it’s possible to see Banville’s repetitions as lazy but maybe it’s also possible to see them as a reflection of the difficulty of writing, of telling a story, which, as we know, serves as the subject and form of so much of Beckett’s work.  Maybe the small differences between Banville’s Beckett biographies that I’ve quoted, the difference between “structure’ and “edifice,” between “strong” and “serious,” between “not unhappy” and “happy, or at least not unhappy,” maybe they represent something more serious than simple copying and pasting or the trouble of trying to figure out whether your parenthetical joke is a divertisment or just a distraction.  Maybe instead they’re a cold, hard reminder of the true difficulty, even for a famous and successful writer, of sitting alone in your chair in front of a blank page and waiting for a voice that just won’t come.  One of the final passages that Banville quotes in “The Word-Stormer” is a letter from Beckett to Joyce, in which Beckett writes:

It is indeed getting more and more difficult, even pointless, for me to write in formal English. And more and more my language appears to me like a veil which one has to tear apart in order to get to those things (or the nothingness) lying behind it. Grammar and style! To me they seem to have become as irrelevant as a Biedermeier bathing suit or the imperturbability of a gentleman. A mask. It is to be hoped the time will come, thank God, in some circles it already has, when language is best used where it is most efficiently abused. Since we cannot dismiss it all at once, at least we do not want to leave anything undone that may contribute to its disrepute. To drill one hole after another into it until that which lurks behind, be it something or nothing, starts seeping through–I cannot imagine a higher goal for today’s writer.

Whether Banville is taking part in some lowly literary onanism or whether he’s abusing his language for a higher purpose, I don’t know.  The answer’s probably the former but, God, I’ve been reading all of these long-form magazine reviews of Beckett’s letters and they, like Beckett’s work, almost always leave me with a note of hope amid the anxiety and pain and frustration they describe, the struggle of working and writing and being, and so that’s how I want to leave you, too, to make my mask pulling and veil ripping of John Banville’s language seem uplifting and heroic instead of opportunistic and cheap.  I don’t know how to do it like that, though, I don’t know how to write that, I’ll have to keep trying, hoping and praying against everything to find words and order them in a way that will say what I want to say in exactly the way I want to say it and in a way that no one’s said it before. Until then, though, I guess I’ll just have to let Sam (and John) play it again.

banville

triumph, will

May 12, 2009

myth1

I weigh 135 pounds. Actually, to be exact, I weighed 135.4 pounds at 7:30 this morning. I don’t know how much I weigh right now as I’m typing this, it could be more or less, I’m not sure. Your weight is always fluctuating, calories burned or stored depending on input and output and metabolism and other vague and mysterious functions of the body so you can never know exactly how much you weigh unless I guess maybe you had some sort of monitor plates in your shoes hooked up constantly via WiFi to an iPhone application, something like that Nike thing that measures how much and how fast you run and beatmatches based on your stride or whatever. The diet experts say you’re supposed to weigh yourself in the morning because that’s the most “accurate” measurement of your weight, whatever that means, “accurate.” I probably weighed several different weights today and who knows exactly what I weigh right now? Maybe my weight is shifting this very second, as I type this, maybe each word I type is some percentage of a calorie burned, small pieces of my insides being burned or stored in an instant as I add letters or delete them from this sentence, the input and the output.

(The current season of The Biggest Loser, the television weight loss competition, ends tonight. This depresses me for several reasons, the main reason being that The Biggest Loser is the best show on television. Other reasons this depresses me include: weird parasocial attachments I have to certain contestants on the show, the end of my ability to criticize the wardrobe person who frequently made the supposedly attractive host Allison Sweeney look worse than the obese, Lycra-clad contestants, being able to muse on whether the way said wardrobe person made the host look so ugly was unintentional or was a strategic attempt to help her blend in with the show’s contestants, the strange and complex guilt and shame I feel about nighttime snacking during a television show about weight loss, a lack of quality television on Tuesday nights now that Real Housewives of New York City is also ending, the fact that I am lame and stupid and don’t have a life.)

myth2

I think about my weight a lot, although I guess that’s kind of obvious from the previous paragraph. For the past couple of months, I’ve weighed 135 pounds almost every day. I run five miles six days a week and have been running comparable distances nearly every day for about three years and I do some curls and presses with small hand weights every other day (I don’t lift or use machines because of a health condition) and I try to do bicycle and ball crunches every day (although sometimes I forget because I hate abdominal workouts) and I walk my dog and I’ve just started swimming in the ocean now that it’s summer again and I’ve weighed 135 pounds for the past couple of months and will probably continue to do so for another month and another month and on into the future and this is if I’m lucky and don’t gain weight.  My weight is always fluctuating but never measurably changing, there’s never any real, actual difference that I can write down, the way as a child your parents mark your height on a door frame and every year you grow and the line gets higher, there’s no progress like that. I don’t know what I can do about my weight anymore since I exercise about as much as I can and I’m not good at keeping a strict diet and I love the simple pleasure of eating food too much to be anorexic but it troubles me nonetheless, this immutability of my mass, it feels somehow wrong to be so static in a world which is always moving and changing.

(One reason why The Biggest Loser is so good is how it deals with the concept of “change” vis a vis reality television.  Reality shows, at the most basic formal level, involve recording on video the life of a person or group of people for a period of time and then constructing an episodic television narrative from the recorded footage. Most reality shows are constructed around the idea of personal change, which makes sense, since change is the fundamental element of all narrative — without change, there is no story. The “change” that most reality narratives focus on is internal change, how the person or group of people “grows” or “develops” during the period that he/she/they are being filmed. This is true of narratives based in competition (i.e. The Amazing Race) as well narratives as based in depicting everyday life (i.e. Real Housewives). Even when, as often occurs, the change is manifested in some external way (the last two contestants on The Amazing Race winning a million dollars), in terms of the television narrative, that manifestation is usually depicted as a symbol of the much more important internal “growth” or “development” that the people have undergone during the period that we’ve observed them.)

myth3

Vanity is generally assumed to be a bad quality. There are a lot of quotes about vanity that you can find on the Internet. Most of them are by Oscar Wilde or Mark Twain, who apparently according to the Internet wrote or said most of the quotes ever in recorded history and who I won’t quote for this reason. Former Vogue editor Diane Vreeland once wrote, “I loathe narcissism, but I approve of vanity,” which is one of those quotes that says something that doesn’t really mean anything but sounds nice and clever anyway so people write it down and remember it and put it on quote websites on the Internet. George Sand once wrote that “vanity is the quicksand of reason,” although she wasn’t very good looking herself and so maybe she was just kind of sensitive about her body image and that’s why she would be so anti-vanity. Maybe what she wrote is true, though. I can understand why most people believe that vanity is a negative attribute and my own vanity causes certain problems for me in my life and I see how it causes certain problems in the lives of others.  I don’t think vanity isn’t necessarily all bad, though. In its shallowest incarnations, sure, I guess vanity is kind of banal and pointless — you will probably not learn much from navel gazing besides the state of your belly button . I wonder, though, if obsessive vanity can ever lead to understanding or revelation, and by “wonder” I mean I kind of think it can. A stupid quote I used to say to girls is that I was like a swimming pool, both shallow and deep, containing multitudes and all that. That quote, like many quotes on the Internet or otherwise, is certainly stupid, but I think there’s also maybe something to it, as if vanity can function as an entry point, the shallow end of yourself that you wade through to get to something deeper and truer further in. Is there a point where staring at yourself in the mirror is no longer vanity but meditation? Is staring at a reflection of yourself a form of self reflection, is being self-centered a way of centering yourself?

(The Biggest Loser takes the abstract idea of “change” in reality television and makes it concrete — it externalizes the internal. We don’t have to trust talking heads or weepy testimonials to believe in the change that the contestants are experiencing, we don’t have to interpret their cliched statements or divine meaning from their facial expressions, we can see the changes in their faces, in their skin, in their muscles, in their bones. They wear their change for everyone to see. As the weeks of the show go by and the contestants together drop hundreds and hundreds of pounds, burn up larger and larger pieces of their insides and mold and shape themselves, they seem to literally become new people, not in some metaphorical sense of fictional characters “resolving their internal conflicts” but by actually becoming new people, as if Hollywood special effects weren’t just illusions but were real, as if the sad fat blonde lady we see in the beginning of the movie actually does contain Gwyneth Paltrow inside of her and all she has to do is work hard enough to free this person, to carve into her skin like a sculptor with a chisel and release her inner beauty. As if inner beauty isn’t some metaphorical consolation prize for the ugly or sad but is a tangible thing that is hiding inside all of our bodies and waiting to be released if only we try hard enough.)

myth4

Without vanity, I think I would be dead, either literally or metaphorically. Not to get all “punk rock saved my life,” but without vanity, I never would’ have started exercising and if I didn’t start exercising, without the power of endorphins and adrenaline and the things they do to your body and mind and self image, I don’t know if I would have been able to get through the unhappiness of life. Even if it wasn’t so melodramatic as all that, I don’t think without exercise I would understand what it’s really and truly like to live inside my body. That probably sounds stupid, since living inside your body isn’t something you’re supposed to have to know, it’s just something you’re supposed to be able to do without thinking and this is just another example of me overthinking something, right?  But for me, exercise is the opposite of overthinking, it’s freedom from overthinking and that’s why it’s so valuable. Before I started running, I feel like I was living, with the occasional exception, this almost purely mental experience.  I didn’t feel connected to my body at all, it was just a tool, a conduit, and interface. Exercise changed that.  Like, breathing is the most natural, unconscious function of our bodies, something babies can do at the moment of birth, but the cool down period after some long distance running last year was the first time I really felt like I was breathing, that I could sense how many different levels of breathing there are and how simple and amazing it can be to take a really good breath and then another after it, how powerful it is. I know this sounds like such New Age bullshit and I’m sorry, it’s probably because I’m not a great writer or if I want to make excuses maybe because it’s such a physical, essential thing that it’s hard to render it in prose without it sounding like some New Age bullshit, that it’s beyond language. Even if the breathing thing is a self-centered faux-epiphany that I can’t truly share with anyone else, though, I still feel blessed to have had it and I had it because I was self conscious and vain about a few pounds I gained from too much fast food and beer my sophomore year of college.

(At the beginning of a season of The Biggest Loser, all of the contestants are sick. Forget the emotional issues of being fat in a society where that’s not the ideal, forget vanity and self consciousness and not fitting into attractive clothes, the people on The Biggest Loser are all so physically sick because of their obesity that many of them seem like they might soon die. In the first episode, one of the oldest contestants collapses on the floor of the gym, having chest pains and barely able to talk, and though the horror of this is of course heightened by repeated slow motion replays of the fall and synth-orchestra stings and cutaways to worried contestants, the sense that this is a person who is unwell is not debatable and is extremely disturbing.  During the first few episodes of the season, the simple act of moving through space seems like a profound challenge for many of the contestants. In one segment, they all disclose the medications they’re taking — pills for diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol, the list goes on and on, some of them taking ten or fifteen or twenty pills every day. As the season progresses though, as they shed their pounds and burn up the bad parts of their insides, they go off all of their medication and begin to live completely under their own power and not only live but transcend, to reach heights of experience that were unimaginable to them in the weeks prior.  By sheer force of will and effort they seem to conquer death.)

myth51

Every day I run five miles on this path by the beach where I live. It’s hot now so I don’t wear a shirt, even though that makes me feel uncomfortable to not wear a shirt. I feel uncomfortable not wearing a shirt because I feel uncomfortable with the way my upper body looks, but if I wear a shirt then I’m too hot to do my miles at the speed I want and also I get really awful tan lines on the back of my neck and so I don’t wear a shirt when I run. On the beach path, which is hard packed sand that’s only five or six feet wide, I’m constantly running into and past and around other people who are also running or walking on the path. On the beach path, which runs through a public park and along a string of hotels and condo towers, there are all sorts of people. Fat people, skinny people, medium sized people; pale people, tan people; white people, black people, Hispanic people, Asian people. There are Orthodox girls power-walking in long skirts and headscarves and musclebound lifeguards in red trunks and old men in polyester shirts and straw hats and mothers and babies and dogs and you know, the soup of humanity or whatever. All of those people are there when I’m running but I don’t see them. I’m so tranced out when I’m running that I don’t really tend to see individual people as anything more than blurs — this is a function of chemistry and motion and the fact that without my glasses on I don’t have very good vision.

I do see some people, though.  I noticed this noticing the other day.  The people I see are the mid-sized, middle aged guys, the ones running with their shirts off in their little running shorts, the same kind I’m wearing when I’m running with my shirt off. These guys aren’t fat but they aren’t exactly thin either, they aren’t muscular but they do have muscles, hints of things under skin, they aren’t good looking but they aren’t ugly, either, they’re just average, like me. As I pass one of these guys on the path, both of us going opposite directions, bare chested in our little running shorts, I look at him and he looks at me. I look at him and I feel like I’m looking into the future which I know is so blatantly metaphorical that it’s probably ridiculous for you to read it, that you’re laughing now, and I know this but it happens to me almost every day and I look at him and it scares me, this vision of the future scares me, because I feel like after twenty years of running as hard as I can every day, I’ll be that guy, that that guy is contained in me already, that there is no change, that I’ll never reach the peaks of Olympian perfection that I see on movies or in magazines, that I’ll never see any of the amazing change that I watch on the Biggest Loser or see in ads for weight loss shakes and protein supplements, that I’ll continue to work every day and it won’t register at all, I’ll just continue to maintain, to be static, as if on some perpetual treadmill, an infinite loop, input equaling output, stasis. I look at the guy and I see all of that and he looks at me and I wonder what he’s thinking, whether he’s happy with his life and he’s just enjoying running and being inside his body or if he’s having all these thoughts like me, but then soon enough we’re both past each other and he’s gone off in his direction and I’ve gone off in mine and we’re moving and there are still miles to do and time to do them in.

(The change that the contestants (and the viewers, by proxy) experience during The Biggest Loser is, finally, existential. In this season’s penultimate challenge, the last five contestants were driven into the desert and dropped off at the bottom of a road several miles long, a road which wound through sand dunes and craggy rock peaks and concluded on the edge of a cliff face overlooking a canyon. Their task was to carry all of the weight that they’d each individually lost since the beginning of the season throughout the course with them. The amount of weight ranged from 80 to over 150 pounds, bags of weight that they had to drag behind them or heft onto their backs in order to progress. When the challenge started, the contestants could barely move, their newly thin and muscled bodies straining against the weight that they had carried around every second of every day before they begun the The Biggest Loser, before they had begun to “change.” Along the road there were stations, each one representing a week that the contestants had spent on the show, the first week and the second week and the third week, one after the other. At each station, the contestants were allowed to drop the amount of weight that they had lost in that week of the show, five or eight or fifteen pounds, whatever, the journey symbolically mirroring their journey through weight loss, the progress in their personal narratives. At the finish line of the challenge, standing above the canyon, they threw the bags containing the last of their weight over edge of the cliff, dead weight that didn’t belong to them, part of some story which was no longer theirs. Through this metaphorical exercise, they signified that they had truly “changed” and “grown” and “developed,” they showed that they had left behind the people they were before and had been “reborn,” body and soul. It was as if the myth of Sisyphus had a happy ending, as if instead of continuing to go up and down the hill every day he had somehow broken his chains and his narrative and went to live off happily ever after, as if change were that easy to effect. As if, as if, as if.)

myth7

summer jam

May 10, 2009

1. jam:

summer jam

2. lines with end rhymes for “jam” that were in early drafts of the song:

  • we eat doritos and teddy grahams
  • the sand was hot but we swam and swam
  • we’re somersaulting like it’s Summerslam
  • we’re getting baked like honey ham
  • i’m existential like sam i am
  • the birth of venus in a razor clam
  • i wanna do you like lauren graham
  • wake me up before you go go wham

3. a few of my personal summer jams:

4.  i actually like preserves much better than jam.  as for jelly, i don’t know why people even bother.

deeper than rap?

May 6, 2009

Some thoughts (?) I had while listening to the new Rick Ross album:

Rick Ross – James Frey
Diddy – Jay McInerney
R. Kelly – Bret Easton Ellis
Mos Def – Dave Eggers
Missy Elliot – Zadie Smith
Timbaland – Gordon Lish
T-Pain – Chuck Palahniuk
Andre 3000 – Vladimir Nabokov
Tupac – Charles Bukowski
Ghostface – William Burroughs
RZA – John Barth
Q Tip – Donald Barthelme
Biz Markie – Richard Brautigan
Wale – Colson Whitehead
Asher Roth – Benjamin Kunkel
Aesop Rock – Ben Marcus
Kanye West – David Foster Wallace
Lil Wayne – Mark Leyner
MF Doom – China Mieville
Soulja Boy – Tao Lin
Nas – Ralph Ellison
Notorious B.I.G. – John Updike
Jay Z – Don DeLillo

I can’t figure out Phillip Roth.

awlthesadyoung

The Awl linked to me yesterday.  That was very nice!  As a result, my traffic numbers went from the metaphorical deep, dark ocean floor up onto an underwater hill somewhere slightly above the depths of the metaphorical deep, dark ocean floor.  Here is an exclamatory sentence in loving and inaccurate tribute to Choire Sicha!  The Awl’s commenters didn’t like me much (and all seemed to think I’m a woman?) but I like them anyway, just like I like anybody who will even pretend to begin to read my writing.  In tribute to all this, here is a quick cover of “I’m So Happy When You’re Near” by the Shaggs.  I think this song is really about blog traffic and the cover is my attempt to express en forme de chanson the liking of traffic and attention when I get it and the inevitably crushing loss I feel when it goes away.  Or maybe I just made all that up!

im so happy when you’re near (the shaggs)

I am thinking now about what a contemporary Shaggs would be like (the real answer to this question is “nothing like the Vivian Girls!”).  I imagine their dad hunched over the computer arranging loops in Garageband every afternoon and forbidding them with threat of violence to leave the room or eat dinner or text their friends until they were able to come up with more Soulja Boy style viral hits with matching dance moves.  When they found themselves unable to record a hook to his specifications, he would sing it himself and pitch his voice up to match theirs and it would sound really creepy but he would insist it was “fine.”  They wouldn’t play instruments although maybe one of them might “DJ” with an iPod full of synth pad samples and a single digital turntable sans mixer.  They would all go to the American Idol tryouts in matching outfits and would get into one of those clip reels of embarrassing singers who are embarrassing enough to be shown but not embarrassing enough to get their own segment, like a bunch of sad young anti-Susan Boyles briefly lifted out of obscurity only to be mocked and thrown back down.  They would tell everybody at school about going to audition for Idol and have a popcorn party to celebrate and would then be really embarrassed when the show aired and not go to school for the rest of the week out of shame.  They would post their songs on Youtube with poorly-synced webcam videos of them in the basement dancing and miming along and the videos would get 150 to 300 hits on average and people would write mean and hateful comments about how stupid and ugly they were and the best they would be able to hope for in terms of success would be to become some 4chan joke they don’t even get.  There would be no Lester Bangs to champion them because he would be too busy doing meth and playing World of Warcraft and updating his crowdsourced tumblr, Vinyl Fetish, which would alternate high resolution pictures of vintage vinyl LPs with pseudo-artsy black and white BDSM shots.  They would probably autotune all of their vocals, which of course would not add any tune to the proceedings but would add a depressing amount of  “auto.”  Bless their hearts.

theawl2

no henry walden

May 5, 2009

Selected scenes from Rob Petrie’s intellectual crisis of faith in the Dick Van Dyke episode “I’m No Henry Walden,” in which Rob and Laura are invited to a fancy dinner party full of French novelists, homosexual poets, and “budding English anti-existentialists” who don’t own “television-machines.”  The party is being given in honor of US poet laureate Henry Walden, whom Rob respects to the point of anxiety.  At the party, Rob is placed in a situation in which his fear of writing causes a serious problem! (Don’t worry, there’s a happy ending.)