Thursday, February 11, 2016

Book Review: Heart of the Original

In his 1984 essay “On Reading to Oneself,” William Gass admires a sentence by Gertrude Stein: “It looked like a garden, but he had hurt himself by accident.”

“If, when we say we understand something someone’s said, we mean that we can rephrase the matter, put it in other words (and we frequently do mean this), then Gertrude Stein’s critics may be right: you can’t understand such a sentence,” Gass writes. But this is exactly why he loves that particular sentence: “It cannot be replaced by another. It cannot be translated without a complete loss of its very special effect.”

He goes further – it’s William Gass, it’s a great essay. I happened to be reading it when my copy of Steve Aylett’s new book, Heart of the Original, arrived in the mail, and it occurred to me that the Gass-on-Stein paragraph ties in nicely with what Aylett is up to. It also provides a handy test: if you’re the type to find more delight than bafflement in the very special effect of the Stein sentence and Gass’s examination of it, you are probably going to love Aylett’s book

Heart of the Original is part manifesto, part satire and part encouragement for those among us who tend toward despair at the state of the creative universe. The book demands a certain mental restlessness, but its premise is simple: it’s a rallying cry for originality, “the making of a thing which has not been in the world previously” – a thing that cannot be replaced, cannot be translated without a loss.

Aylett’s central observation is that while everyone says they love originality, most of us when confronted with it feel discomfort. We don’t know what to do with something truly original; it’s alien. By definition, we’ve never seen anything like it before; we have no existing category in which to file it, so we reject it.

Lucky us, we live in an age of pastiche - the sequel and the remake and the reboot - Jane Austin and zombies, Spidermen ad nauseam. Marketing wisdom tells us that the best way to sell something to the public is to promise them it’ll be exactly like the last thing they enjoyed. In our art and entertainment, collectively, we like a safe bet. It’s easier on the brain, and we have enough to worry about already. Aylett identifies this as our “not-so-secret desire to be robotic and dispense with the complication of variety.”

This atmosphere has a dulling effect on the creative instinct; why should an artist try to make something genuinely new when anyone can just slap a misattributed quote onto a photo of a kitten or a sunset and be celebrated as an internet genius? It’s discouraging.

Fittingly, Heart itself is difficult to understand in the same way as that Gertrude Stein sentence: it can’t easily be rephrased or translated. Aylett’s fiction is built of intensely compact high-octane sentences, full of ideas and no wasted words; early in his career he made promo stickers that said “AYLETT SAVES...TIME.” His novels and stories are short and dense. Heart is equally if not more so, but midway through the book he offers readers a key: “Write three sentences and remove the middle one,” he advises; “often the deleted sentence is implied by the remaining material.” Who knows if that’s literally the way he wrote Heart, but it could be; he’s certainly removed all connective tissue. His sentences hurry along, the tone ranging from urgent to impatient, at times creating the impression that Aylett doesn’t quite expect anyone else to follow – or, more optimistically, maybe he hopes those he’s speaking to will be able to catch up. Observations and dismantlings come pell-mell one after the other, occasionally interspersed with rampaging hens (Aylett loves hens). The distance between the end of one sentence and the beginning of the next often feels like a Battlestar Galactica space-jump. Strap in and hope you have the right coordinates. “A life or text in which every link is spelled out will be expunged of mischief, leaving no task to the mind,” Aylett writes. No worries here.  

Hopefully that doesn’t make it sound like the book is all work and no play. Aylett is always fun to read. His scorn for those he considers ripoff artists is pure and sincere, but he’s smart enough to play it mostly for laughs. He goes off, but he never sounds like a crank. And he’s equally intense when he’s writing about people he thinks are genuinely innovative. An undercurrent of exhaustion peeks through now and then, a perfectly rational if quiet voice asking why bother making something original, what is the damn point if nobody wants it?, but this is balanced by the satisfying thought that maybe irritating the masses is reason enough. The cumulative effect of the book is heartening – icewater in the face, and someone yelling, What are you waiting for?

Monday, October 05, 2015


Well, here I am, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Yesterday morning around 6.30 I opened the front door and interrupted a little red fox trotting alongside the edge of the fish pond. He froze and stared and sized me up – “harmless; smells funny” – and then he got on with his day. (Or she.) It wasn’t even really light out yet, sort of a misty, grayish-yellow, unripe morning. The fish were leaping clear out of the water, like somebody skipping rocks; nothing to fear. Alleged overnight temperature: 28 degrees.

Later on I saw these two huge trout get into the small-pond equivalent of a fistfight. And a bunny!

Anyhow, I’m settling in for the winter. This is my parents’ cabin, up in the Colorado mountains (9000 feet elevation! Fun fact: jogging here causes immediate emphysema), remote-ish but actually not all that far from the neat little town of Salida. There are a few other cabins in the area, but right now I’m the only one around. I’m pretending this is one of those fancy writers’ retreats people do, only without all the gossip and the lengthy application process.

(Plus they let me bring the cat.)

Goal: finish a book. (I mean writing one, just to be clear.)

Secondary goal: figure out life. (Suggestions welcome)

Third-ary goal, already accomplished: escape, briefly, the rapidly escalating cost of living in Portland. (Also the evil rain of winter) (Although it’s raining here as I type, so maybe I’m not as clever as I think)

I’m also ostensibly helping out my parents, although so far that’s been an almost perfect mirror image of what is happening. :) But you know: just in case they need anything.

To get the internet here you have to stand barefoot on the cabin roof holding a wire hanger aimed toward a far-away hilltop, where a barely visible tower zaps messages to the outside world. So if you don’t hear from me about something it probably just means I’m afraid to go out there in the dark or wolves have surrounded the cabin or I am napping.

Anyway. Current plan is I accomplish goals 1 and 2 in this cozy, peaceful, budget-friendly habitat and then return victorious to Portland, where my motorcycle and motorcycle club await. I’ll keep you updated!

Friday, July 03, 2015

one-bike garage

[drawn by Mike Russell, obviously]
Well, the Hawk has the whole garage to itself now. I finally decided to sell the little race bike. Should've probably sold it years ago, but I kept thinking maybe I'd want to race again. But I never did. Some of the guys borrowed it now and then, but mostly it just sat in the garage, looking cute for no one. So - it was time. The guy who bought it will be racing here in Portland as well as in Washington, so it'll have plenty of adventures. No regrets! Bikes are for riding.

When she was brand-new (to me)
Down the road a piece

So long, little buddy!

But...well, now I'm worried that the Hawk* will be lonely. Technically I also own half of an SL175, but it lives clear across town and I never see it (joint custody thing, it's totally amicable). Which means it's time to start daydreaming about my next motorcycle! Mind you, I do not currently have a job or any money, so when I say daydreaming, it is not a euphemism for planning, or browsing Craigslist for six hours, or asking artificially casual-sounding questions about interest rates.

But that's OK: there's nothing like total impossibility to really open up the field of possibilities. What sounds good to you guys? Sky's the limit!

Last night at the Neu Sandy Hutte we saw a candleholder on a nearby table catch fire (beyond the usual) and spurt a stream of hot wax into the air like Old Faithful. A guy who worked there tried to blow it out but it fwoomped into a fireball and scorched off half his beard. No one was hurt.


Be careful out there, everybody.

*The Hawk might finally have a name. Last week I got together with a bunch of fellow and former Lonely Planet authors -- Portland has maybe the highest concentration of LP folk in the known world, outside of company headquarters, plus we had a few visiting. At some point a couple of them strolled over to look at the bike, no doubt drawn by its ragged majesty. One of the guys nodded at the peeling Hawk logo on the side of the gas tank and said, quite reasonably, "Hank." So there we go. Hank.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

roadtrip report

Trip report, so far:

1) The day I left, when I woke up and went downstairs to make coffee, there was a little bird flittering around in the living room. No windows were open. No idea how he got in. How long had he been there? It's not all that big an apartment. Anyway, I opened the front door and out he flew, happier no doubt.

2) My travel buddy, the Admiral 589 (a kitty), hated me for about a day and a half but has now settled into her role as lead navigator and rest-stop wizard. So far, so good.

(She's out in the car now, smoking a Kool with some trucker.)

3) The following rock songs came on the radio more than once in a single day -- Def Leppard, Animal; Rush, Closer to the Heart; Bon Jovi, Livin' on a Prayer.

(On one memorable trip in Sweden I swear Graceland haunted me. I must've heard You Can Call Me Al at least a dozen times. It was only two or three years ago. Why, Sweden?)

4) No distinctive food item has stepped forward to be included in my quest. I'm a little too early for huckleberries, and knock on wood I haven't even seen a Rocky Mountain oyster yet. Stay alert!

5) I don't wanna jinx myself, but people out here so far have been really friendly. Maybe I'm just used to working in Sweden, where folks are typically a little shy and not given to casual chitchat with strangers. I mean, I'm not the world's *most* suave, but Stockholm brings out the socially awkward like nobody's business. (I love it there. I do. I want to go back soon! But it does start to feel a bit girl-in-the-bubble after a while.) Anyway. Casual chitchat with strangers. That's what's up.

6) Saw a family of beavers in Coeur d'Alene, but then it turned out they were only muskrats.

7) Heard some elk.

8) This morning when I woke up, I could see waves and mountains without even getting out of bed. So the next time you hear me complain about any aspect of my job, smack me upside the head and remind me that I have it pretty good. :)

I'm being lazy with the photos and mostly just zapping them up onto "instagram" until later when I download better versions. So if you're curious, here they will be:

Sunday, May 03, 2015


I'm road-tripping through the Rockies this spring for Lonely Planet. One thing I like to do on these trips, strictly for my own entertainment, is to give myself some kind of quest, a secondary mission. Lately this quest has taken the form of an informal contest to determine the greatest possible version of a signature food item. (For Sweden: kardemummabullar. Platonic ideal found on the southern archipelago island of Utö.)

For the Rockies, what do you guys think? Will this be the year I finally tuck into some Rocky Mountain Oysters? Colorado's easy: green chili. Most of the other obvious choices seem to be various shapes of fried and breaded beef drenched or dipped in heart-attack sauce. There's also the huckleberry pie option. But we do have my arteries to consider.

My pal Zach used to order a Denver omelette every morning on a road trip, noting the infinite variations of the form. But I don't like Denver omelettes all that much.

Anyway - suggestions welcome! It doesn't even have to be food. Cutest infant buffalo? Ultimate wildflower? I'm open.

Monday, April 13, 2015

revising tony

Alert readers may recall that I've been working my way through the fitness program P90X, thanks to my awesome brother (hi Karl!). It is super fun, and of course I adore Tony, but sometimes you want to just do the workout and not necessarily watch the video. For those occasions it's helpful to have a brief description of each move, to complement the official worksheets where you commit your specific failings to paper.

I like to customize these for easier recall. Here's a sample from today's workout, to give you an idea. As you'll see, it's pretty brutal.

Slow Motion 3 in 1 Push-up: Do one push-up. Counts as three.

Side Tri Rise: Lie down on your side. Try to get up. How many tries did it take you? Write it down.

Floor Flys: Lie on the floor on your stomach. Flap your arms up and down like you're flying.

Throw the Bomb: Grab the P90X DVD in your left hand. Throw it out the window. Now, using both hands, grab the television. Throw it out the window.

In & Out Shoulder Flies: Time to refuel with a burger! Double-double animal style, from the drive-thru, and when you're done, throw the empty bag over your shoulder on the fly. (See?)

Side to Side Push-ups: Lie down and curl into the fetal position on your left side. Weep freely (remember to breathe!). Roll onto your other side and repeat.

Chair Dips: Pretty self-explanatory - set a bowl of chips on the table, place dips on a nearby chair (you need to be able to reach them from where you're lying on the floor). Enjoy.

Lying Triceps Extensions: Lie on the floor on your back, dumbbells at your sides. Stand up. On your worksheet, lie about how many triceps extensions you did. Remember to exaggerate the weight of the dumbbells.

Pike Press: Coffee break! Pike press is just like a french press but you stand on your tiptoes while it's brewing. How long can you hold the position? Write it down.

Clap or Plyo Push-ups: Watch as your buddy does some push-ups. Applaud.

One-Arm Push-ups: Come on, who are we kidding.

One Arm Balance Push-up: Get into push-up position. Tremble. Collapse. Cry. Repeat as needed.

Weighted Circles: Hold your arms out straight at your sides, shoulder height, and have your workout buddy pull them off, one at a time.

Don't forget the cool-down! 

(It's a milkshake.)

Sunday, March 29, 2015


I would watch any movie of any length in which any or all of the following occur: 1) Matthew McConaughey walks across a room (2) Benicio del Toro says "creepy" (3) Joaquin Phoenix.

(Inherent Vice has two of the three. You guys should go see it - so much fun! And it is a Paul Thomas Anderson movie, so every single frame looks gorgeous, not just the close-ups of Joaquin.)

The other day I started reading a biography of Margaret Fuller: A New American Life, by Megan Marshall. Fantastic so far, really vividly detailed and lively. Fuller strikes me as someone who should be a lot more famous than she is. I don't think we even studied her in j-school (part 1). She hung out with the Transcendentalists, edited the Dial, worked as a foreign correspondent, etc etc etc. She was ultra-brilliant, outspoken, stubborn and wild in an era when women were encouraged not to be any of those things (1810-1850, specifically). She had a kid with an Italian lover ten years younger, and they all died in a shipwreck when she was 40.

(She also had a fraught, complicated thing with Ralph Waldo Emerson, my boyfriend, but I forgive her because I was not born yet.)

(Plus I think she was the great-aunt of Buckminster Fuller, which is pretty cool.)

Are there any decent movies about the Transcendentalists? I can't think of any. Let's pretend somebody's making one and fan-cast it!

Anyway. Margaret Fuller. Check her out.

Meanwhile, I've been plugging away at the eternal book project, about which I currently have nothing good to say, other than that it exists and has finally stopped shrinking. (For a while all I did was cross out the bad parts. That was discouraging.) Yesterday I cleaned the whole apartment just to avoid it. I would've done yardwork too but my weedeater blew up (again).

"I find the most difficult part of writing is to get it down initially because what you have written is usually so terrible that it’s disheartening, you don’t want to go on. That’s what I think is hard—the discouragement that comes from seeing what you have done. This is all you could manage?" 

-- James Salter, in this interview with the Paris Review

Yep. Heard that.

Even so. Sure beats working! : )

Monday, March 09, 2015

crossed wires

If I ever say the word "turnip" to you, please know that what I mean is "parsnip." I will never mean turnip. I don't know that I've ever even had a turnip; I think they're like big ugly radishes, but I'm not sure. Parsnips, though, I love, especially roasted. "Parsnip" is also a much cuter word. But somehow those wires are crossed in my head, and after years of trying to get them uncrossed, I've decided to just go ahead and accept this quirk.

I meant to post something here yesterday but I couldn't lift my arms. It was Day 1 of Week 5 of a re-do of P90X, which means things like one-arm pushups and weighted circles and not being able to lift your arms. (Today was plyometrics, aka "jump around until you barf or pee your pants.") I slacked off quite a bit last week, too, which made for an extra-pleasant couple of mornings. Fun!

(It is fun, actually, as long as I've remembered to eat real food and not just beer.)

Alert readers will recall that this glob started years ago as an ungainly blend of travel report and preoccupation with absurd yet mundane ways to die. I guess it's still both of those things, most of the time. Aging is the ultimate champion in that latter category, after all. And I'm still traveling. Just last week I went clear over to the other side of Portland, hanging out for several days in a neighborhood I like to call Sandwich Heaven. (I was cat-sitting.) Here, within a couple of blocks, you can get four or five of the greatest sandwiches in all of Portland. I thought Lardo made my favorite one (Korean pork shoulder, OMG), but then my friend Sean sent me to the People's Pig and now it's the winner. Smoked Fried Chicken. King of Sandwich Heaven. So you can see why I need to work out.

Anyway. I know I've been lame about updating this thing, although probably no more than usual. I've been working on revisions of a not-really-secret project. Also I had to fix my motorcycle, because the weather is insane right now -- definitely not a fake spring, after all. So that took some time. Among other improvements, I now have new throttle cables, and for the first time in history the throttle actually snaps closed like it's supposed to, plus it no longer makes that awful grinding sound, like my knees when I go down stairs.

Here's how the cables looked before: bad! All squinchy, and rusty to boot:

The whole deal is much cleaner now, and with any luck I've put everything back on in the right place and not upside-down or in such a way that it will later explode. Fingers crossed! So far it seems to be working just fine, but I'm no expert.

Until next time!

Monday, February 16, 2015


Well hey, would ya look at that. Oregon is Genesis. Who knew? 

I may have been wrong about this spring -- it might not be a trick, after all. It seems real! I won't hold my breath. But at least the season of Awful Holidays for Single People is over. I like being single, but not at parties from Thanksgiving to Valentine's Day. No, thank you.

This year I spent about half of Valentine's Day in the garage digging into my sludge-encrusted, criminally neglected motorcycle, and the other half sipping red wine and watching romantic French movies. Both were pretty fun. I like messing around in the garage if I'm not in a hurry and it's not freezing cold. The poor bike is filthy down to the guts; some evil blackish brown stuff had oozed out of the bottom of one of the carbs, which I imagine isn't a great sign. But I have a theory (!) and will test it soon, maybe tomorrow -- today's portion of the project went faster than expected, although still glacial by normal human standards. I have zero natural instinct for mechanics, so I try to work very deliberately and follow all the instructions, hoping not to blow myself up or accidentally put everything back on upside down. There tends to be a lot of darting into the house to look at pictures on the internet, etc. But it's a good time.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015


Irritating weather. It's not winter anymore but it isn't spring yet, either. All the plants are confused, trying to bloom but sure to get the smackdown any minute now.

(Or maybe not? Maybe this spring is real? Yeah, yeah. That old trick. I know better but I fall for it every year.)

Just in case, I put a couple of seeds in little pots in the kitchen window yesterday. So far nothing.


(Little-known fact: Toad yelling at the garden used to scare the crap out of me when I was a kid.)

I really need to spend some time in the garage and get my bike running, but it's pretty cold in there still.

Anyway. Here is Kelly Link reading an excerpt from her new book of stories. (I'm not obsessed! I just...I just really like her, okay?) I reviewed the collection but am annoyed with myself for not having made the review a little prettier before I sent it in. (The word "fact" appears at least three times in the first dang paragraph. Three!) I pick up these habits sometimes, little verbal tics, we all do it, and they creep in without my noticing, and then they turn invisible. And they stay invisible until a day or two later, at which point they practically glow in the dark but usually by then it's too late. Oh well. Can't overthink it. The stories are fantastic; all her stories are. And she's working on a novel now, too, I hear. Oh, and she did a Q&A for the Powell's blog*, which I haven't read yet but am about to (I just remembered to look for it). Holly Black is in there too -- I read her YA novel The Coldest Girl in Coldtown this week -- good fun vampire teen adventure love story.

Been seriously exploiting the Multnomah County Library lately. :)

In other news, I'm planning some springtime travel in the Rockies, for work. So get ready! More on that later.

* Update! The Q&A on the Powell's blog is awesome, as expected. I was especially happy to see this bit in Kelly's answer to a question about her writing routine, since as we know I am fascinated by all such talk:
I don't have a routine, and in fact I spend far more time avoiding writing than I spend writing. I can give you my routine for not getting started writing. It involves waking up and checking Twitter or Tumblr. Then I make coffee and do dishes. I brush my daughter's hair. After she's gone to school, I check Twitter again. Maybe I do some laundry. I do a lot of laundry. I make lists of all of the things that I need to do that don't involve writing. I check Twitter again. Often it's time for lunch, or more coffee by the time I've accomplished all of this. At some point I realize that time has passed and I am no longer in any danger of getting any writing done. A strange feeling of relief comes over me. I start to think about dinner. 
P.S. I have totally gorged on every season so far of The Vampire Diaries and it is entirely her fault but -- that show is Not Terrible. (Also Rebekah from the Originals is my spirit animal and Klaus is like a more affordable Tom Hardy.)

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

animal house

Each year, in the deepest darkest depths of winter when everything seems sort of gloomy and pointless (to me), I am rescued, wrecked and revived by my motorcycle club's annual retreat. This is when we load up on beer and liquor and fireworks and food and head out of town for a few days to plan the year and just hang out with each other, free of all rules and responsibilities so long as we don't directly endanger the security deposit on whatever house we've rented for the weekend. First there's a chaotic meeting, and then sometimes there's a semi-structured "cross-training" activity (ski bikes, trust falls, ax throwing, logging races). Other times we just kinda fart around and drink beer until something fun happens, which it always does. This year was sort of a mix of the two. I learned a lot (what happens when you put a light bulb in the microwave? how many bananas fit in a blender? do crawdads eat cat food?), lit a couple of fuses and had a damned good time. There's no better way to burn off a cold gray mood than by standing around a fire pit with 18 of my favorite fellas. They're fun!

Bring it on, 2015.

p.s. I didn't get a tattoo (regret!) and all pics are stolen from my bros.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014


I love this holiday because it celebrates two of my very favorite things: driving in traffic and shopping for stuff. Hoho. Some of my funniest xmases were spent with John Graham ages ago. One year we were both so broke that I wrapped up a library book as his gift, which he had to return when it was due two weeks later. Another time we were so thoroughly in denial that we neglected to buy any groceries until it was too late and the stores were all closed; dinner that night was a bbq chicken breast (shared) and some minute rice. Luckily he always had a giant bottle of Clan MacGregor hanging around.

"At home Moominmamma had dug out the verandah with a shovel and laid out life-belts, aspirin, Moominpappa's old gun, and some warm compresses. One had to be prepared."

-- from "The Fir Tree," a story by Tove Jansson, in which a stressed-out Hemulen wakes the Moomin family from their winter hibernation to warn them that "Christmas is coming!"

Anyway. Tonight will be fun! I'm going to the Hull house in Salem to hang out with Zach and his adorable family. And tomorrow I'll crawl back under the covers and resume my happy hibernation. :)

Sunday, December 21, 2014


Today is the first day of winter (so I hear). I think one of my winter projects might be to design myself a course in Tove Jansson. I love the Moomins of course (who doesn't) and have read and loved one or two of her other books (The Summer Book is classic and the best-known; I read it this summer, in fact, in Sweden, getting ready to visit the archipelago with my dad - but it would be an excellent thing to read in the mean old winter, too). But now there's a new biography out and a bunch of reissues of her stories and novels, so I think I might dive into that.

This essay is reinforcing my inclination.
Much of both Art in Nature and Travelling Light deals with the problem of art, and more specifically, with the problems of artists. Jansson’s characters are cursed to carry the same two souls within their breasts that she carried within hers: they desperately want to be alone, but equally desperately want to experience human connection. 
I didn't see anyone all weekend and it was great. You can't do that all the time but now and then it's nice to have a few days to tunnel in to whatever it is you want to tunnel into. (Not that I'm pretending to be any kind of artist, I didn't mean it that way; basically I just don't have a job.) I like time alone. I don't get lonely unless there's a specific person I'm lonely about. (And then I see people and realize how much I've missed them and how weird I am in company, suddenly.) Plus I've been reading a lot, several books all at once, and it feels like being wrapped up in blankets of words. Very cozy. The weather is hideous but it's ideal for that.

I'm cat-sitting at a friend's house, which I love to do: you get a lot of the fun of travel without the inconvenience of actually being away from home. It's just a slight displacement, same view different angle. (This friend happens to live in the middle of Portland's Sandwich Heaven, or one of them, so apologies if pictures of food appear here in the future. I'll try not to.) It also always makes me tidy up and rearrange my whole apartment. There. That's better!

Anyway, the thing I like most about Tove Jansson is the glorious rage of her tiniest people, and how she never allows it to be mocked, at least not in a mean way. That - the solemn respect for unnameable, ineffectual, absurdly childish but profoundly real fury - complemented by the supernatural calm and wisdom of the people who are a little more grown, that's what I like best. The territory between Little My and Snufkin is vast, and I'm pretty happy at either end.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

bad behavior/good excuses

A possibly relevant thing from this article / interview with Kelly Link in Gigantic, which is great in its entirety and might even get me to watch The Vampire Diaries one day:

Look, think about how gossip works. What are the best stories? When you're telling stories, you're telling stories about people who have made a really poor choice, who do or say the kind of thing we all know you shouldn't. In fiction, at least, there's a kind of cathartic, discomfiting joy—a pain/pleasure—in people behaving badly. 
So I don't know, maybe I just want to be a good story one day. It's healthier, though, and longer-lasting, to let the girl in the story do all the bad things, and for me just to write them down from here, where it's safe.

(I just finished reading Kelly Link's new book of short stories, is what brought that up. She's one of my favorites.)

In very closely related news, I watched a little movie called Happy Christmas recently. The trailer makes it seem bleaker than it is, as if everyone in it is kind of horrible, or too flawed to pull for. Like Young Adult (which I loved, but oof, harsh). But it's not, really; it's very sweet. Sad, but realistic, and not conclusively sad in the end. I used to hate Joe Swanberg's movies because nothing ever happened in them; my theory is that he was trying to show the way young people these days avoid conflict or confrontation of any kind, squirming away from it at all costs. Admirable mission, but frustrating to watch (for me, anyway). But he no longer avoids painful discussions, he dives right in and it turns out he's great at that.

Anyway. Fun for the holidays!

Also the other night I saw this crazy thing, which - OMG. Why Don't You Play in Hell?, it's called. It's pretty fantastic. A crazy love song to film and art and the urge to die to make something meaningful, and what a waste that is (or is it?), or, alternatively, what a badass way to live forever. Plenty of ultraviolence, great screen faces, and extremely fabulous costumes all around.

And an unrelated side note: my friend David Walker had a release party yesterday for his kick-ass new comic book about Shaft (you know, the black private dick that's a sex machine to all the chicks), and along with that, he screened Shaft's Big Score (1972), and I'm like 95% sure that at one point in the movie, the sexy race-car driver named Rita said, "Anything with a stick shift is my meat." And that wasn't even close to the best line. Good stuff, and I totally plan on bringing back "it's my meat" as an expression of enthusiasm/proficiency.

But now I'm back in reading mode, so I might talk about something other than movies here next time, in case you all were getting bored (Karl). :)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

spooky action at a distance

Everyone's doing their Top 7 movies of the year, etc., but to save time I'll just tell you my very favorite, the movie that made me the most swoony and obsessive: Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive. I would live in it.

And it's not even the only movie this year in which dancing saves the day!

There were lots of others I loved, same as anyone: Edge of Tomorrow, Under the Skin (!), Guardians of the Galaxy. Locke. Interstellar. A screening of The Darjeeling Limited at the NW Film Center. But I didn't see much this year, for whatever reason. Picky, busy, gone a lot. Anyhow, if you like music or Detroit or romance or luscious fabric of any kind, or Tom Hiddleston or Tilda Swinton, or dancing, you'll want to see Only Lovers.

(This song just came on, which is what reminded me)

Another thing I loved that has a great soundtrack: The Knick. Check that out too.

p.s. Oh and Snowpiercer and Grand Budapest Hotel. :)

p.p.s. AND I can't believe I forgot about this one! Most fun movie in ages:

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


I meant to write something half-serious today, but then I got distracted by Tom Hardy-on-a-stick:

Looks like it might require beer. :)

Anyhow, now that I'm distracted, here's another one I'm pretty excited to see:

Lot going on there.

[deleted scene]

I should go. No doubt I'll have something more interesting to say on Sunday, if I keep to the schedule which BY THE WAY is not likely, let alone obligatory, god forbid expected. Don't get your hopes up. Imagine a life consisting mostly of disappointments, with occasional misleading breaks for either treats or total disasters. This here glob won't seem so bad, in context. It's, like, preparing you for the future, for what's in store. Unreliability. What's your favorite pop song? Imagine waking up next to someone. Over and over. Even just the one time, actually. That's the whole thing. It's what we think we want. Do we want it though really? What happens then?

Well, I should go.

p.s. It might be useful to know that I've been reading a book of monster love stories - you know, people falling in love with monsters, and vice versa. Kind of in a weird headspace. :)

Sunday, December 07, 2014


The other night I told somebody that if I had my way, from Halloween to Valentine's Day I would probably curl up and hide. It's the cheerful party season. I'd like to stay home but I don't want to wake up in the spring with no friends. Also whenever I do venture out, I have a nice time. So I'm not really complaining. But to work as well as play requires an unsexy strategy: moderation. 

"Lagom" is a Swedish word meaning just the right amount - not too much, not too little. A national character summarized in one word of advice. If it's written on my hand I can't claim to forget about it. (Not such a big deal with coffee, maybe, but you get the idea.) Sticking with lagom is important because otherwise, very quickly, the situation slides over into all play and no work. I mean, who wouldn't rather just chill?

Icky winter is the best time of year for writing, but it's also the hardest in which to crawl out from under the covers if nobody is making you do that. This Chuck Wendig thing is a few weeks old but pretty fun, and useful. Mainly, for me, it's just a question of doing what you say you want to do. I think I'll unplug my Netflix account this week, just for a little while; it's so much easier to watch something than to make something. One of my favorite kids' books was a Frog & Toad story in which they experiment with the concept of "willpower," which in this case meant wrapping up the extra cookies in a box inside a box inside a box, tying the box up with string and stashing it way up high on the very top of the fridge, hard to reach without a step-ladder.

I think it might work.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014


One of the 15 different books I'm currently half-reading is Wanderlust: A History of Walking, by Rebecca Solnit. I've just started, but already I have to quote a few passages for you:

Many people nowadays live in a series of interiors -- home, car, gym, office, shops -- disconnected from each other. On foot everything stays connected, for while walking one occupies the spaces between those interiors in the same way one occupies those interiors. One lives in the whole world rather than in interiors built up against it.

Nice, right? Here's another one:

As a member of the self-employed whose time saved by technology can be lavished on daydreams and meanders, I know these things have their uses, and use them -- a truck, a computer, a modem -- myself, but I fear their false urgency, their call to speed, their insistence that travel is less important than arrival. I like walking because it is slow, and I suspect that the mind, like the feet, works at about three miles an hour. If this is so, then modern life is moving faster than the speed of thought, or thoughtfulness.
Of course, there is such a thing as too slow. This time of year I have a huge appetite for reading, but I read so slowly, it's agonizing. And I sleep too much. Can't get anything done. I just keep making lists of new books I want to read. :)

Sunday, November 30, 2014

glamour and revenge

"It came to me then that dressing badly could be seen, in a way, as a form of disinformation, a form, almost, of psychological weapon." - Lydia Millet, Mermaids in Paradise

Man, Lydia Millet gets me. :)

(My interview with her went up earlier this month - she was extremely cool.) 

Anyhow. Alert readers may recall our noble mission from last week: 
The new Plan begins as a laser-focused deprogramming regime, to be enacted thus: you (I) must watch all of the Very Worst of the Romantic movies offered through Netflix instant streaming, or as many as you can until you barf.
Well, it went swimmingly, right down to the barf. I didn't make it through very many movies, but I learned a thing or two about love. (Can't remember any of it, sad to report, except that for best results you should probably be called Jennifer.) The irritating thing is that these movies, even the very bad ones, have full access to the little marionette strings attached to my emotions. Girl and boy meet; exit brain stage left. All the movie-love myths bleed over into real life, too, even though they are mostly really gross myths and I obviously know better than to believe in them. It's embarrassing, like finding out that someone has secretly gotten you hooked on some weird drug and is now using it to control your behavior.

(This is nothing new, of course: movies rely on emotional manipulation; it's one of the things we like best about them. But the bad ones operate more like those old AT&T commercials, and when you succumb to a thing like that, against your will, you feel icky and weak.)

Anyhow, I'm sure I didn't manage to deprogram myself in a single evening, but I might have become annoyed enough to embrace and enjoy Winter Hermit Mode for the next month or so while I finish writing this frustrating thing I've been writing forever and ever.

Fingers crossed.

Best part of the whole deal might be the mean, scoldy tone Netflix has adopted: Because you were silly enough to watch '13 Going on 30,' you will be punished and mocked by the following suggestions...'Revenge of the Bridesmaids'...'Beauty & the Briefcase'....etc.

So. Onward!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Well, I didn't say *which* Wednesday, now did I?

(Or wait. Actually I guess I said every Wednesday. And Sunday. Well, that proves my point, though, still.)

Anyway. Further efforts toward a comforting routine. Which really is an effort to seize time, grab it and stop it, to prevent important things from slipping through your fingertips - whether they're things you want to do or make or things you need to know, see, read, hear, etc. I have felt recently that I miss a lot. Also that I'm incredibly slow as a reader, and also as a viewer of dumb TV and as an absorber generally of facts and truths about the world. There is just so much more of everything. (Do you remember Antonia's Line? when they're riding that fat horse, and the kid - under the spell of the old nihilist, The Finger - says something like, Isn't it a pity that nothing exists, and the mom says Well, that's why there's so much. It's Schopenhauer, somehow, I think.) (Although I saw that movie a very long time ago and am notoriously unreliable on philosophy.)

On the other hand, this is a holiday, or rather, a holiday weekend, or week, I guess, technically, and I have now become distracted about movies. So now there's a new Plan.

The new Plan begins as a laser-focused deprogramming regime, to be enacted thus: you (I) must watch all of the Very Worst of the Romantic movies offered through Netflix instant streaming, or as many as you can until you barf.

(It's only how the Plan starts. After a while, you can forget, and watch whatever you want.)

Fingers crossed, everyone! :)

With any luck, I'll survive to report on the results here later.