Before mercury, my blood was used to fill thermometers.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

I can do what they alluded to.

I keep to-do lists for everything, and an innumerable number of those lists feature "learn InDesign." I finally learned InDesign this year — and I learned I love using it.

In preparation of moving on to a new day planner, I read through this year's and found a summer entry about how many times I've applied to the VIDA Count. This year, I made it onto a team. With the privilege comes the attendant sympathy for everyone else who has had to tangle with the Times Literary Supplement.

In November, I went to BinderCon with Becky Jones. It was revelatory again, I bought Svetlana Alexievitch's Voices from Chernobyl — and got exactly what I deserved for doing so: not a quiet moment in my head the whole trip — as well as Eve's Hollywood and Therese and Isabelle. I kept my crying pretty focused on the keynotes. I'm going to parse the individual, spectacular aspects of the conference, out of which Becky and I made a weekend vacation. So many excellent things happened.

Briefly: I finally got to meet some of the beautiful people that power Catapult (and visit the equally beautiful Rizzoli Bookstore across the street) and, along with Becky, had a perfect lunch with Megha Majumdar and Natalie Degraffinried. Becky and I also went to The New York Times where the very courteous Tom Jolly showed us the layout of the newsroom and I had another occasion to lose my mind about Toiletpaper's Sunday Magazine cover for the "Lost Foods" issue, which was one of my favorite things that happened this year — besides everything that happened on this trip.

I am grateful to have spent that time with Becky, since she ought to be living in Sweden by this time next year. As excited as I am to hear the glories of Scandinavian living (preferably in real-time), I'll miss her.

After the conference, I finally rallied and got two pieces published, a review of Juliet Jacques' Trans for Full Stop and an essay on book spines for Literary Hub. I'm wildly proud of myself for doing the work, writing the pitches, and getting two acceptances so expediently after not pitching new work for quite a while. I was overrun, I have been since 2014. I'm getting over all that.

Getting involved with Entropy, which has been a dream, was the result of wanting to write without pitching, with no concern for hooks or clicks, just to exercise my critical faculties. It has been restorative. I'm working on several new essays. The last one I published was on trying to look at Mad Men in a way that is so final I can feel like I can leave it behind. Which is empowering for the short while it lasts, before I watch it again. It was a pleasure to consider how Peggy's approach to advertising turned Don inside-out over time and to feature two illustrations by my Kara.

A photo posted by Kari Larsen (@coldrubies) on

Now that I am on the other side of a long copyediting fugue which found me wrestling for two weeks with the phrase "fairy tale wedding" (or is it "fairy-tale wedding"?) I am trying to give myself a small, real break with these Catapult manuscripts. And Matt Zoller Seitz's Mad Men Carousel. And some of my own writing. And some other developments I'm excited to announce soon.

Friday, October 16, 2015

If you need it abandoned leave it with me.

Last week, I had one of the worst times I've had since 2012. My life got a little ruined that year and I am pleased to report remains the benchmark for my bad times — last week did not top it, just took me back there, and I am still trying to get rid of the lingering effects.

But on Friday, I had to work a split shift, and in between I had three hours to myself. I turned on Black Orpheus. I made plum tea. I checked the mail and Niina Pollari's Dead Horse (from which this post's title is derived) had arrived at last. I lied down on the couch, opened Dead Horse, and started to read it aloud. By the second poem, it was storming outside. I stayed in that position, reading Dead Horse out loud, drinking plum tea, and listening to Black Orpheus while the storm ensued. As soon as I finished reading, I finished my tea, Black Orpheus was over, and the storm ended, all at once.

That felt incredible. I'm going to remember that.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Get these chrysanthemums out of the building.

Hoarding books does not make me feel incredible but having the perfect book waiting for the perfect time, especially when that time is not great otherwise — that is incredible. I came into most of Dodie Bellamy's books by-accident-on-purpose, mostly finding them where I did not expect them. I had a good time with Cunt Norton (right? What else is going to happen under those circumstances?) but the buddhist. I could not be happier in that I am not, mood-wise, where I would like to be at all, literature-related-happiness notwithstanding, and this book is completely there for me. I keep thinking about it, even after the Letters of Mina Harker and the TV Sutras. I LOVE the TV Sutras. I am hoping Academonia runs into me soon.

Also finally tackled: Paul B. Preciado's Testo Junkie. I started reading it last year and had to strain to recognize what Preciado was describing when it came to pharmacopornographic capitalism, now I do not have to try — reading it was one harsh, fluid stream of yes, yes, yes that all came out like a horrified no, no, no. I loved it, and I love now being lulled into this vulnerable place by Intimacy (ed. Lauren Berlant).
One curious feature of U.S. popular psychology is that it seems predicated upon the conviction that there are no good grounds for low self-esteem. 
- Candace Vogler, "Sex and Talk" from Intimacy
I ordered Eileen Myles' Chelsea Girls, Dodie Bellamy's When the Sick Rule the Worldthe two new Dorothy releases, Joanna Walsh's Vertigo and Marianne Fritz's the Weight of Things, and Niina Pollari's Dead Horse (finally — I kept expecting to find it someplace and never did). I was prepared to defer bulk-book-buying until BinderCon but no, my life is ridiculous.

Also ordered: Juliet Jacques' Trans, which has already arrived (and is the Joanna Walsh responsible for Vertigo responsible for this ravishing cover?! I'M OBSESSED) —

A photo posted by Kari Larsen (@coldrubies) on

But it's symphony season again and the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra's first concert was phenomenal, especially their performance of Ernest Chausson's Symphony in B-flat, which I would love to hear live again as soon as possible.

And as a Contributing Editor at Entropy, I will be writing about innovation and representation on television, starting with my bid for how Twin Peaks ought to belong to Donna Hayward:
Laura the person was treated like the real mystery to solve, at least inextricable from the murder case if not, occasionally, overriding it. As the person who was genuinely the closest to Laura Palmer, the narrative builds no suspense around Donna. She is not a mystery because she was what Laura was supposed to be. 
My dearest Kara is illustrating my Entropy posts, so if you do anything, drink those drawings in.

A photo posted by Kari Larsen (@coldrubies) on

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Lights, camera, acción.

Between Clarice Lispector's Complete Stories and Lana Del Rey's "High by the Beach," I sort of had a summer. All I want to do is watch the "High by the Beach" video. But I've managed to do other things.

But its magnetism has not kept me from my mission to read all the books I've been hoarding. Finished: Patricia Lockwood's Balloon Pop Outlaw Black, Dodie Bellamy's Barf Manifesto and Viola di Grado's 70% Acrylic, 30% Wool. Falling into the unhinged maw of Balloon Pop Outlaw Black made for the kind of afternoon I which was open to me more regularly, long and yawning and dedicated to just one thing. I've been reading essay submissions and if anything ever came close to Barf Manifesto you would hear me screaming from wherever I am. I hazard to guess but 70% Acrylic 30% Wool might have been the first occasion I ended a book gutturally mumbling "what the fuck" (going to pick up Hollow Heart, but with caution).

Everything I have accomplished in the last week has been a Herculean achievement since I saw Best of Enemies in Philadelphia and have since wanted to stop everything and finish Gore Vidal's Palimpsest. My favorite vignette is his discovery of a teacher's notes on his behavior: "I wish I were a bull so I could gore Vidal."

On the same visit to Philadelphia, I found Talk, the only NYRB edition of Tove Jansson's I did not own (True Deceiver), Elizabeth Taylor's A View of the Harbor and — unexpectedly, joyously — Fleur Jaeggy's Last Vanities, which I had long hoped to run into in the wild. Talk rocked. Now Ottessa Moshfegh's Eileen is making me regret all my commitments. Except for Story of the Lost Child, to which I dedicated the long weekend. The allure of Elena Ferrante is tidal.

I finished the Neapolitan Novels. Last year, I thought I would bide my time for Story of the Lost Child's release by reading her standalone works, not realizing that by being a quarter of the size of her Neapolitan Novels, they would contain a concentrated dose of that same intensity. Troubling Love pulverized me. So I am saving the Lost Daughter and Days of Abandonment for special occasions.

Somewhere amidst these activities, I also finished Vidal's The City and the Pillar — which I would have loved when I was in high school and am sorry I spent so many years confusing Gore Vidal and Oliver Stone — and started doing yoga. I intended to start three years ago. Like The City and the Pillar, I am disappointed in myself for waiting so long. Also, Moshfegh's McGlue was a surprisingly perfect companion read that I could have done well, also, to read, like, years ago — years before it was published. It is, however, a counterintuitive companion to yoga, since I interrupted my routine to finish it.

I like to think of myself as adept at prioritizing things I enjoy and pretty much utterly lack grace when confronting maladaptive habits. When my ability to handle stress goes haywire, I am loath to accept any very commercial methods of coping. But something is off, my productivity is derailed, and instead of flogging myself about it, I've been trying what I can to revive whatever synapse has retired. I now have a tin of solid perfume (just beeswax, coconut oil, and the scent in question) the scene of which I consult occasionally throughout the day. I don't think I look really crazy, but I embrace the bias that informs that opinion. It's mimosa-scented — the flower — which, along with a few cherry blossom-scented candles, is really doing something for me.

Which is a relief, because I've got a lot of work to do. Rebecca Jones (digital producer, my favorite coworker, high-ranking Swede in the Scandinavia of my heart) and I are going to BinderCon in November. I'm on the VIDA Count team (although I don't know which count I'll be involved with yet). Catapult's launch is upon us (NEXT MONDAY). I have a book to finish.

By "finished" I mean edited legibly, serving the purpose it needs to serve, and with a formatted bibliography and index. The only words I need to add are in the introduction, where I look at the media that anticipated Girls and white feminist fatigue. For this I've had to re-watch Sex and the City. That task has made for a punishing couple of months — the show really turned against itself at one point. Maybe that was necessary. I have a lot to contemplate there.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The crazed vivisectionist of his destiny.

...she was the crazed vivisectionist of his destiny. It is hard to imagine today how potent and overwhelming the experience of sex must have been in those early decades of the twentieth century, when orgasm seemed an experience like the discovery of radium. 
- Virginia Nicholson, Among the Bohemians
A few goals:

In order to finish the introduction to my Girls book by October, it is necessary that I watch Sex and the City in its entirety. I am halfway through it for the first time since it premiered. The way the men blur together, the dialogue — significantly more explicit than the sex scenes — maybe the first appearance of weird Matthew McConaughey (my frame of reference here is not iron clad; if we have enjoyed at least fifteen years of weird McConaughey, that is valid), plus Sex and the City's innovations were television's to ignore/take and claim belong to other shows that came along in its wake, and it still feels fresh for that while simultaneously feeling repellently and fascinatingly retrograde for its approach to gender and queer sexuality and fashion, respectively.

After that escapade is over, I am going to replace powering through seasons of television with something else. I am confident that, except for Mad Men, I will not have a problem addressing or finishing or starting or failing to abandon any of the other innumerable things I have been suspending this year instead of watching television. But putting Mad Men away is the challenge. When I am not doing well, I always go to it, and the frequency with which I feel I need to put aside what I am doing to watch Mad Men is grim, obnoxious, and ultimately counterintuitive. Instead of distracting me from unwellness, the extremely familiar sequences now have this eternal-recurrence-esque uncanniness.

And besides writing, I am going to avail myself of the convenient storage solution in my apartment and approach my unread books shelf by shelf. The shelves are small (and legion) and hold between ten and twenty books, so instead of the Sisyphean task of considering all my unread books as one whole obstacle, I can go one shelf at a time.


Have read: Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals by Patricia Lockwood; Heroines, both copies of Green Girl, and Fallen Angel by Kate Zambreno; the Ravenous Audience and E! Entertainment by Kate Durbin; Inferno by Eileen Myles; Zipper Mouth by Laurie Weeks; the Argonauts by Maggie Nelson; Two Whole Cakes by Lesley Kinzel; Pity the Animal by Chelsea Hodson (resting on top)

To read: Balloon Pop Outlaw Black by Patricia Lockwood; 70% Acrylic, 30% Wool by Viola di Grado; Essential Acker, Empire of the Senseless, and Blood and Guts in High School by Kathy Acker; The TV Sutras, Cunt Norton, the Buddhist, the Letters of Mina Harker, and Barf Manifesto (resting on top) by Dodie Bellamy

The "to read" column includes and will include henceforth books I read in high school — Essential Acker, for instance, made an impression on me, but I did not understand it — books that I cannot remember reading, and books I have not read yet because I am still recovering from Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Novels and a months-long fugue I fell into with Poets in their Youth. I need to restore recreational reading as a priority. Especially the reading of The Story of the Lost Child.
Pulling on his pipe, [Hermann Broch] might talk in a very preoccupied way about "twilight consciousness," or be very down-to-earth about a New Yorker cartoon. 
- Eileen Simpson, Poets in their Youth
The history of the Olympia Press I found this weekend definitely will not sabotage this plan in any way (although Girodias was so miserable to Valerie Solanas and the book does not seem to address it, so). Also, on the subject of reading, I am reading submissions for Catapult (and have been since December, but time is either a rubber band or a flat circle depending on your HBO original programming preferences), and by doing so am successfully recouping some of that time I do not want to mismanage. I would rather be reading manuscripts than almost anything else.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Mad Men exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image by the numbers

Pieces of paper with valuable insights into the development of Mad Men's story: many — thirty, maybe? Fifty? The contents of the first chamber should be a book. I would read a book of notes on the development of Mad Men with unexplored plot lines, mood-boards of scenarios and half-scenes, and as much of Horseshoe* as there is in existence. But I knew I would read a book of those things. I would also continue to pay money to read those notes tacked on a wall in a very thin hallway.

Potential trolling via Easter egg: at least once. At least. My datemate saw in the recreation of the writers' room library a copy of The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton, or "the good book" according to Jon Hamm's Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne in The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. It's better imagined as part of a conspiracy.

Instances of crying that surprised even myself, inveterate public crier: two. Over things I would not have expected: the sight of the "Why I'm Quitting Tobacco" letter and the golden age Draper kitchen. I love Mad Men but I figured walking through this exhibit would err on the side of delightful, not devastating. So eight years of Mad Men taught me absolutely nothing.

Instances where an absence of public crying on the part of myself inspired me to stop and wonder if I have any shred of humanity left: two. I did not lose it in Don's Time Life office. I was absorbed in it and wanted everything and so was overcome with a compulsion to make note of all its details like I was not going to go watch Mad Men again and have, really, much greater access to those details in a comparatively more private space. Also, the Chip 'n Dip was there. It does command attention.

Cameos by Scout: one.

Attempts by other museum-goers to skirt the "no photos" policy: innumerable. Their collective force succeeded in transforming me into Veep's Amy Brookheimer.

* - The Dick Whitman character was originally named Peter, and my life is now divided into the times before and after I realized the line about how "he was named after a wish his mother should've lived to see" still worked.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The ad was making me sick.

I was ready think about something else other than the Mad Men finale when I watched Matthew Weiner's decompression at the New York Public Library (with AM Homes! The circumstances of that talk fulfilled my high school dreams and my young professional dreams all at once).
I did hear rumblings of people talking about the ad being corny, and it's a little bit disturbing to me....The people who find that ad corny are probably experiencing a lot of life that way and they’re missing out on something. Because five years [before that commercial ran], black people and white people couldn't even be in an ad together, and the idea that some enlightened state and not just co-option might have created something that is very pure — and yeah, there's soda in there with good feeling — but that ad, to me, it's the best ad ever made....I felt that that ad in particular was so much of its time. So beautiful, and I don’t think as...villainous as the snark of today thinks it is.
That is such a slap in the face!

Mad Men forfeited the ability to make race an organic component to the finale. It gave up on Dawn, it gave up on Shirley. It is not a reach to read a vision of utopian racial harmony concluding a story that lost interest in exploring racial tension in any degree as cynical.

"Utopian" is an important Mad Men concept. I do like the idea as Don plunging from one utopia — the domestic one of the fifties — into another — the peace-and-love one of the sixties — that the coming decade will inevitably shatter as he contributes to the excavation and exploitation of it, making the seventies a rehash of what Don spent the sixties doing.

The commercial is "not just co-option" but is also enlightenment, but why did Don have to reach enlightenment? Because he desired. And advertising is desire. Enlightenment can't begin with "I want," which is exactly how Don's revelation starts. Discovering what he wants makes sense for Don, coming to terms with the fact that making advertisements is the least harmful thing Don can do for his loved ones and the people of the world makes sense—poignant, awful, sad sense considering that he found out Betty has lung cancer from the cigarettes he used to advertise. So somewhere in the future there's a page in the New York Times titled "Why I'm Quitting Sugar by Donald Draper."

I am okay with eternal return. That is not the part that wounds me as a viewer. But the ending of Mad Men was not part of the story of Mad Men. The show did not earn that ad — it is too famous — and even if it had, it is a real ad for a real product that of course did not need money for its use in "Person to Person." It's an ad. It made the company money. I agree with Emily Nussbaum:

Co-option, continued: The presence of the ad is double co-option: it is co-option within the narrative of Don's experience at the retreat, and it is co-option of the narrative, of the story and experience by the viewer of Mad Men, to sell something. Because there is nothing of that ad that does not exist in the service of selling its product. And that is what Don is, too. Weiner did acknowledge that in his talk when he addressed Don's love of seducing strangers who, as soon as they familiarize themselves with him, he ditches, repulsed. It is valid, in my opinion, to leave on the note that Don has nothing more to offer, no better a love note to write, than an ad.

But I never watched Mad Men expecting Don to grow. I watched Mad Men expecting Don to be discarded, for Pete and Peggy to realize the Don-model was worthless to them, for it to be revealed that the anxieties he was exploiting in his work were missing a nuance. That is what I thought they were driving at effectively with the constant invocation at the end of the way people "come and go as they please," the epiphany Ginsberg had about Megan that led him to the Jaguar tag, a tag that exploited Don's anxiety about the way people are not products. His commodification of harmony and togetherness and products as "the real thing" severs him once and for all from his family and his coworkers, who are all shown to be off in their own, enjoying actual real things (which, for all of them, is some variation of work/life balance — except for Sally, who is still tied to the Betty model that life is work, "you're painting a masterpiece," etc.).

I think of Don less as a character and more of the thing that happened to all of the other characters on Mad Men. I was hoping Don would be come, as Dear Television put it, "decentered," and season five — with Ginsberg's Jaguar tag that played on Don's anxieties the way it did — beautifully set the show up for that after season four gave Don every opportunity to forge a new paradigm. He chose not to, and Ginsberg figured out why. Season six did not entirely swerve off this trajectory — both Pete and Peggy had to confront the extent to which trying to be Don was failing them (Pete lost his family, Peggy kind of lost her grip on her career trajectory when her staff started to revolt) — but it did get mired deep in stories that stalled (Don vs. Ted, which was the most promising of all the Don-centered season six stories) or dragged on without a climax (Don's stories with both Megan and Sylvia).

Joyce Carol Oates identified the trouble and appeal in decentering Don:

If Don Draper is an advertisement, Mad Men could not transcend him unless Peggy or Pete — preferably Peggy and Pete — took over as protagonist/s, particularly after their attempts to follow Don's example broke down so hard for them in season six. The strongest themes that recur in the finale are from season one, which is understandable, and season five, which made season six seem all the more an exhausting exercise. Because season six was about the extent to which the Don-model was supremely failing Don himself. All this, only to end on Don embracing the product that he is.

But, then, what product works? Is this a criticism of the cathartic potential of art? Was "Person to Person," again, Mad Men's attempt to kick you out of the TV and into bed? Were you supposed to turn off the TV as soon as that song crept in at the end? Was your half of the bargain already over?

It was villainous, but it does give the viewer the ultimate opportunity to reject Don Draper, and maybe that is how Mad Men had to end: something that provokes the viewer to move on the same way Peggy and Pete did.