Wednesday, October 1, 2014

I have to live them first.

Reading Joanna Ruocco's Dan and Nell Zink's the Wallcreeper has been like running through a field of flowers! It is futile to declare any year the best Dorothy, a Publishing Project year, but this is ridiculous. Also, this is Joanna Ruocco's best work yet, and having lately reopened a Compendium of Domestic Incidents, I am no less convinced and no less going "HOLY SHIT" to myself over and over, all the time, like Franny and the Jesus Prayer.

I got the news that I am still the symphony critic at work, which means a lot to me. I am especially looking forward to the world premiere of a piece structured around the REM cycle situated between dances from West Side Story and Romeo and Juliet.

The pleasure I glean from so much being written on the Mitford Sisters is dubious, all of it being the result of Deborah's death. To take that dubiousness a step beyond, I could not be more into the Gawker Review of Books with Michelle Dean at its helm.

Last year, I dedicated my fall vacation around the west coast to hunting for Jessica Mitford's Hons & Rebels and did not find it until I was in New York for an afternoon. The clerk upstairs at McNally Jackson referred me to the memoirs, downstairs, where, at the bottom of the staircase, I was met by another clerk holding Hons & Rebels, asking, "Is this yours?" with so much immediacy and magic.

I am going back to part of the west coast — Portland and Olympia — right after BinderCon. I am glad not to have my heart set on anything but taking in where I am and browsing every single spine of fiction at Powell's. And I'll be done with my book!

The final essay needs to make more sense, but there is a lot to celebrate besides that: twenty pages of footnotes! Some historical context! The knowledge that Malcolm Gladwell finds writing an entire book about a single case to be a nigh intolerable task to complete! The fact that I set out to write this book and I did it in less than half a year!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Destroying all the ladies.

The original, central Mad Men characters all had names that directly referenced some major sixties thing — Dorothy Draper, Hare Krishna, Betty Friedan, Alfred Kinsey, Campbell's Soup as made famous by Warhol, and so forth. Peggy's name has eluded people trying to fit her into that scheme. I do not think Matthew Weiner has ever definitively identified whose names came from where, but the soundest explanation I have found for Peggy's name is the Simon & Garfunkel take on the folk song "Peggy-O," which is about a very conditional love affair — so sad and so apt.

The song is on Wednesday Morning, 3AM, which is also where "Bleeker Street" comes from, the central song of the episode "the Suitcase." If there is anything that locates my greatest vulnerability with maximumly-abusable precision, it is Peggy on Mad Men, and "Peggy-O" is the experience of watching her in song-form. Mad Men started airing when I went away to college, and all my initial viewings of its pre-hiatus seasons were in dark pockets between everything that was going on at school and the time I could coerce friends into spending with me. I am so absorbed in every detail of every episode that, every time I watch it, I return to being that person: stuck and terrified about what is going to happen to me and accounting for my every moment but still in the dark, watching this show. To re-feel those feelings in the fall now, there is a dimension of gratification, because now is a very good time — there are things that have never, ever been good about my life that are good now. Fall has always caught me on the edge. It is not a bad time to be haunted.

EDIT: From the best brain, which happens to inhabit my best friend, Clare —
I think this is a very astute reading of Peggy's origin and got me thinking a lot about it, and I think Bob Dylan's 1962 version may capture Peggy better, lyrically. Dylan's take on the traditional is still a love song but with very explicit political ties (dead Captains and Lieutenants). Unlike the S&G version, she is left alone but it does not seem like such a personal tragedy. In fact, you don't even know where she is or if she is alone, you just know that this dude is telling her the captains are gone and Lieutenants dead. 
Mad Men have also made some great references to the folk scene of the time, and while S&G were undoubtedly important, Dylan is really the face of the whole thing. I think that he captures Peggy's spirit as well. The S&G version implies that Peggy has stayed where she is ("If I ever come back") whereas the Dylan version is very vague, going from 1) at the march, 2) what the mother says, 3) come down the stairs, 4) Lieutenant is gone, 4) Captain is dead, end of song. She is not heartbroken, explicitly, and honestly she could be anywhere. She may not have stayed at home, waiting for him. I also think the bit with the mother is so important because that sort of independence was a theme in the early seasons [note: Peggy's relationship with her mother gets play for most of the series in seasons two through five]. 
The mother's thoughts are brought closer to the end in the S&G version, but asks what she will think about her going to places far and strange. Dylan's version is a little bit more final — "what will your mother say to know you've gone away and never, never, never coming back"(i-ooooo, if you will). 
The arrangement of the lyrics is very important. The S&G version, the running is early — right after the march, and she's straight into riding a carriage. This seems to explicitly be about a marriage: she is still very much wrapped up in a man. Dylan's Peggy, rather, does not have a carriage: she runs down the stairs and is immediately greeted with the Lieutenant's death and a missing Captain. The question of the mother is asked and them immediately she seen running down the stairs — this impatience to move beyond, to get out, is coursing through Peggy, and it feels like that man is an excuse to go out beyond. 
One can only surmise this Peggy, like Ms. Olson, had to take things upon herself to get through the death of a leader (hiiiint) and the the absences of a captain (hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiint). 
I don't think we ever will know definitively where Peggy comes from, but I think that song, regardless of the version, is a really good bet. There are so many readings and interpretations of the original ballad that many artists have created, and it — like Peggy — resists traditional readings because there are so many versions and truths, and these versions are often selected or altered to meet specific requirements of the artist using it. Dylan made it more political, S&G make it more romantic, and there is no One True Reading, no version is more or less right. Like Peggy, it contains multitudes and the version used relfects more on the user than the subject.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

There is no treatment for capture myopathy.

Capture and restraining of an animal are extremely stressful. An immediate reaction to stress is the "flight or fight" syndrome, to which the body responds by producing adrenaline. Persistent overproduction of adrenaline leads to a buildup of lactic acid in the bloodstream, which affects the heart's ability to pump correct oxygen to the muscles, which may cause muscles to start to die: myopathy (from the ancient greek pathos, "suffering," and mus, which means 1. "a field mouse"; 2. "a muscle of the body"). There are four categories of capture myopathy ranging from peracute, with death resulting in a matter of minutes, to chronic, where the captive animal may survive days or even months, riding horses and sending off telegrams, only to die suddenly from heart failure or some apparent accident. There is no treatment for capture myopathy. 
- Anne Carson, the Albertine Workout

Getting ready for BinderCon, and the news of Jill Abramson being there turns everything cosmic.

Getting ready for BinderCon amounts to anticipating which restaurants I can haul my carcass to from the conference locations. My restaurant rotation in New York has gotten really fixed, and since I do not have to accommodate anyone's desires but my own on this weekend, I envision it being full of lox.

My contributor copy of Women in Clothes is in my arms. Reading all the bylines, every few names, my heart leapt into my throat:

Alissa Nutting! Amy Rose Spiegel! Anisse Gross! Audrey Gelman! Carrie Murphy! Donora Hillard! Eileen Myles! Elif Batuman! Elissa Schappell! Emily Gould! Haley Mlotek! Jenna Wortham! Joana Avillez! Johanna Fateman! Justin Vivian Bond! Kate Zambreno! Kim Gordon! Lena Dunham! Mairead Case! Masha Tupitsyn! Mira Gonzalez! Miranda July! Molly Ringwald! Rachel Antonoff! Rachel Comey! Renee Gladman! Rivka Galchen! Roxane Gay! Sadie Stein! Sarah Nicole Prickett! Sasha Grey! Semi Chellas! Tavi Gevinson! Thessaly La Force! Zosia Mamet! To say nothing of the towering Sheila Heti, Leanna Shapton, and Heidi Julavits, who put Women in Clothes together and whose unified vision and individual-but-impeccably-meshed-styles gives the giant project (639 contributors besides themselves) so much cohesion. If my own presence in Women in Clothes sways you, by all means, be swayed — I'm (clearly) the least of what's to be enjoyed in there, but the fact that I am in this book with all these people is never going to stop making me feel really fucking awesome forever.

I need that some days.

Lessons for Girls is burning in my hands — I have never had a time like this, working on a piece of writing, feeling like it is so important and urgent and I have the tools to articulate why. I'm putting a jaunty bow on certain arguments, appraising each time I use the word "bullshit," and reading everything aloud to find where the prose gets strangled in my fury. It's almost done. It's beautiful.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Tour de blog.

Photo by Ellen Willis

Tagged by Gina!

1. What are you working on?

Lessons for Girls, a book of essays about HBO's Girls, specifically the first season and the critical reaction to it with some slight references to how that criticism impacted the show as it went on. Reviewing the morass of reactions to the show when it barely existed has been fascinating/horrible. Coming to terms with how long it has really been since 2012 has been even more so. The face completely melted off my life in 2012. Technically, the answer to "What are you working on?" has been the same since 2012, and it is, "Regaining the ability to respond proportionally to everyday stressors."

2. How does your work differ from others’ in the same genre?

I wager that others who have undertaken large-scale critical works on one specific subject have, at some point in the past, found joy in writing criticism, which I never did in school. So I'm sure I'm suffering some convenient amnesia about what my past critical writing experiences. Now I love it and feel deeply that the work has a purpose.

3. Why do you write what you do?

I'm writing Lessons for Girls because for all the criticism disseminated over the life of Girls on television, I do not think anyone has nailed what the show is doing or why it is significant, particularly with regards to what kind of criticism has been leveled against it.

4. How does your writing process work?

I watched the first season as it aired and recorded my initial impressions. In starting Lessons, I watched the first season again — for the first time, closely, since 2012 — and transcribed the events of each episode. Then I combed through and inserted my observations and conclusions regarding each episode, what themes are present individually and overall throughout the season. Then I read everything that I could that was written during/about the first season and have been weaving in/responding to those critical reactions. The first layer of writing, I stayed completely immersed in my impressions, and since then, I've been completely immersed in other critics' impressions. Now I'm working that all together. As my first work of this scale written while I have a job and lots of other responsibilities, it has been invaluable in developing more effective ways of structuring and building something big made of "moving" parts. It is not exactly like a piece of fiction, but in dealing with smaller essays that make up a single season, I am treading over information that becomes relevant at one point but central to another. And it has been simply reassuring that I can tackle something as substantial as this with everything else I have going on — a full-time job, two part-time jobs, a partner I now live with, friends who live far away, exercise that is vital to my health, blogs that I hate to ignore.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A roller coaster of creative experience as if I’m making a new life for myself in France.

Horrids, at first sight, is not even a space, but a humid maze of bodies. London becomes for Ruth a series of grubby rented rooms the color of dud avocados. But while shopping in Liberty, Ruth beams when the clerks at Liberty call out and say, "Oh, you look like a little Parisian girl!" In Frances Ha, Frances (who was one of the "green girls" in her childhood ballet troupe) goes to New York to follow her dreams, which she scores to songs of the French New Wave while she sees her dream disintegrate in the reality of the city. Likewise, now that Ruth has relocated from Chicago to London, she has had to push her dreams elsewhere. She casts her gestures as those of a French New Wave gamine slogging tragically through Paris, redeemed by the fantasy that someone has found her significant enough to document.

I wrote about the space inside Kate Zambreno's Green Girl (rereleased by Harper Perennial!) and the space it creates and infiltrates in readers at the Fanzine. If you loved the 2011 Emergency Press release of the novel as urgently as I did, this is not only a perfect time to revisit it, but it's also not the same book in the way that one is, presumably, not the same reader. Or it gives the pleasant illusion that one has changed for the better as much as the text has. This is a very small part of its impact, though; I go into greater detail on its merit in the essay.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Blue hydrangea, cold cash.

Gentrification of the Mind (Sarah Schulman), the Art of Cruelty (Maggie Nelson), and Airless Spaces (Shulamith Firestone) will each demolish a reader all on their own. Taken all at once, talk about blurring the world.

...if you correct dancers in terms of their technique, the thing they have worked so hard on, this can be very wounding to them. "But if you give them a metaphor they go home and figure it out, and they haven't gotten a complex about it."
- Joan Acocella on Suzanne Farrell in the essay "Second Act"

Roistering summer insomnia is in effect. I'm up late again watching Rose, c'est Paris again and again. One of my favorite scenes is close to the beginning, when B. is pasting up missing notices of her sister, Rose, and the way she moves, the way she ascends a ladder, make her seem as if she is filling with air and floating off. My favorite alias of Rose's is Marcelle Souveste. I love the identical twins and the bouquet of aliases.

There is one single copy left of my Birds of Lace chapbook, Come as Your Madness.

Gypsy Rose Lee writing the G-String Murders (Life Magazine)

My book Lessons for Girls is in the research phase. The track is laid. One of my favorite things to have emerged from working on an in-depth, book-length study of Girls is noticing this conversation between the two books that buttress the plot at the opposite ends of the first season: Listen, Ladies. Leave Me Alone.

Meanwhile, I am carving out pockets of time to exercise. I like to wind around and walk, but have not been able to seduce myself into any activity besides dance, a term I am really abusing here. I contort, spin, stretch, punch, kick. Writing a book is hard. Assuming the responsibility of so many words is hard, where they are directed at writers navigating the lessons that critical reactions teach them. I need a metaphor to take home.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Chekov's Chip 'n Dip

The gun may have been lurking in the Mad Men shadows since season one, but the means by which the gun made it into Pete Campbell's hands was the Chip 'n Dip he traded in. And so I hope with everything I have that the real Chekovian comeuppance will be delivered upon Pete Campbell in the form of some vengeful, trendy serveware. That would be so great.

Like, you try to be the guy wielding the gun at the office, Pete, but you're really embarrassing, trying too hard, and filled with lies. You're the human Chip 'n Dip.