Before mercury, my blood used to fill thermometers.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

I'm making your fantasies come true, why are you laughing? Lena Dunham's GIRLS, Season One

The Spoiler-Ridden Gestalt Review of HBO's Girls, Season One (2012), created/written/directed by/starring Lena Dunham


I. "The Entitled Lena Dunham Project"

A disclaimer: my focus in these analyses of Girls is the storytelling and how the execution of Girls contributes to the articulation of fictional stories on television. That's a narrow focus. My interest in the show is also cultural and I do raise the points I feel most strongly about - largely concerned with where certain decisions might take the story - but I do not have the equipment to unpack the show as a cultural critic. I made reference in a previous post to other people who are expertly dissenting to Girls and they are eloquent and riveting about where the innovation lacks. I do believe there is great innovation in the storytelling.

During the premier run of Girls, season one, I wrote about each episode as they were released over the course of ten weeks. Since then I've gone back and considered the season as a whole. I was almost done with the episode-by-episode analyses when I visited my best friend. She was in trouble and I took a quick vacation to see her. She is a staggering cultural critic. I mentioned my Girls-watching project and could not make it past character introductions before she was crying with laughter. I didn't intend to keep hitting conversational potholes, but she also took down my attempt to gush about Mad Men. I don't need another show about miserable, affluent white guys, either - although it was not a thing to debate with my friend who I was there to console, my interest in Mad Men is its methodical unspooling of Don Draper. The cost and toll of his vices become increasingly present, his relevance wears - his status is not sustainable and the past five seasons have not pretended that is not the case, there has been no coasting on his triumphant successes as a significant other, friend, employee, or employer. Mad Men is slick, but the volatility and unsustainability of desire is at its narrative core.

I say this in order to argue that it isn't a sitcom, and my decision to analyze Girls episode by episode came in part from the gigantic response to the pilot. Assignments notwithstanding, the alternative being not engaging with the phenomenon notwithstanding, the changing quality of the medium of television notwithstanding, it felt like a lot of critics came at the problems presented in the pilot like they would have to be endured for the rest of the show's life, not as obstacles the characters may be forced to reconcile as they grew throughout the seasons. Even though it wasn't very long ago that television didn't resemble film as much as it does now, there have still been things like Six Feet Under and the Sopranos. The Sopranos pilot initiates the breakdown of dickish mob boss, asking viewers to follow James Gandolfini's flamboyant dickishness on the road to better crime syndicate management through psychotherapy. Girls' pilot introduces a young college graduate having her access to her parents' money cut off, asking viewers to follow Lena Dunham's meta-self-depreciation on an ever tightening spiral of self-referentiality toward the self-sufficiency and artistic achievement that Dunham herself has actually attained.

Dunham's character, Hannah, is vulnerable, and her vulnerability comes from her being forced to accept responsibility for herself. Hannah herself does not practice discretion about harboring ideas and fears and defining herself by those ideas and fears that speak for themselves: there are AIDS, rape jokes, a long-term fling and eventual commitment with a man who runs hot and cold on her physically and emotionally, the precedence her creative work takes to the emotional privacy of her friends, her stubbornness, and more. Her reprehensible qualities are one thing, but she is also comfortable in her body, unreserved about pursuing her interests, committed to what she's doing as a writer to a greater capacity than she would otherwise seem capable given her self-destructive tendencies, and aware that she when she's smart and funny, she's smarter and funnier than anyone she might be up against. That complexity asks a lot of an audience who harbored unquantifiable, totally disparate wishes for a show about girls as they know them. The first season demonstrates that a lot of change and growth has all ready been detonated.

II. Girls

After supporting her financially for two years while she partakes in an unpaid internship, Hannah Horvath's (played by Lena Dunham) parents cut her off. Hannah attempts to turn her internship into a paid position, a move her boss mistakes for quitting. After whispering into an office job, she trips and explodes an abusive dynamic with her boss and takes up at her friend's coffee shop as a barista. She hides this from her parents who urge her to move home. Meanwhile, Hannah tries to let her tempestuous hook-up, Adam, disgust and frustrate her more than he fascinates and challenges her so she can justify dumping him. When Adam does something - send her a lewd photo that wasn't meant for her in the first place - that is read universally by her friends and acquaintances as a deal-breaker, she recognizes that she needs someone who makes her feel good about herself and, in the same moment, also recognizes why she is with Adam in the first place: factors that have as much to do with what she wants as anything, which is substantial. She and Adam embark on a relationship. In an effort to remain cool towards her desire for this and any kind of prosperity, she meets the hard truth that she does have wants, and not having those wants respected - by herself and by others - is the state in which Hannah ends the season. In the first episode she leaps into the arms of her friends; the end of the season leaves her alone.

Jessa Johansson (played by Jemima Kirke) declares in the second episode that she does not like it when women tell other women what to do, and by the end of the series, she heeds the warning of a woman who might never see her again and with such anger that she has, simmering neatly underneath Jemima Kirke's radiant exhaustion, makes all the same mistakes as her. When Jessa shows up in the first episode, her best friend, Hannah, fields warnings that Jessa's presence always causes unwelcome disruptions, and her role in particular fixes Hannah, herself, and their mutual friend Marnie in an unsustainable dynamic. Jessa reveals that she isn't in town to party but to take care of an unwanted pregnancy with the support of her friends. She has a difficult time overcoming the very branded way in which her friends extend their help - although Hannah's "advice" and Marnie's stringently curated abortion appointment are performed in her best interest, Jessa can't get over the very Hannah and Marnie way of it all. The spontaneous relief of her terminated pregnancy seems convenient but does not give her a free pass. She does not indulge in the bender Marnie anticipates: she gets a job. She throws herself into it and, while visibly lonely, gently navigates the black-hole-in-magnitude suction of her boss - Katherine's - husband - Jeff's - neediness. After things get weird enough there, Jessa attempts again to be among her friends, going out with Hannah, Jessa, and her cousin, Shoshanna, to a party where her situation with Jeff blows up. This is not the last straw, though: the last straw comes when someone - Marnie, of all people - finally listens to her and takes her problems on like she is a human being, and by the end of the night, she is reduced to a hollow on which a wild night pivots. When Katherine, tries to tell her what to do and poison her with her resigned and shitty worldview (quoth Ariana Reines), Jessa throws this and other attempts to help her in the faces of everyone with a wedding to a disgusting man who is all but a stranger.

Marnie Michaels (played by Allison Williams) has a job, pays the bulk of and eventually all of the rent of the apartment she shares with her best friend, Hannah, and has a boyfriend, Charlie, whose overwhelming affection she takes for granted and is repulsed by. In the beginning of the season, Marnie is braced for Jessa's return to her and Hannah's lives and for Hannah to spiral into irresponsibility. Marnie fancies herself the glue in Hannah's spine. When Jessa reveals she is pregnant, Marnie does what she understands to be the friendly thing to do and schedules Jessa an abortion. Jessa blows it off. Hannah, embroiled in financial woes and her difficult relationship, bucks Marnie's relentless mothering. This sets up the discovery of Hannah's diary by Charlie. Hannah's diary is full of observations about Marnie's shabby relationship, and when its contents are broadcast by Charlie, Marnie blames Hannah. She executes a successful and pitiful seduction of Charlie that enables her to break up with him. She wallows on a grand and public scale, petulantly observes Hannah enter into a relationship, uses the one sincere human connection she makes amidst her heartbreak for the sake of a cheap thrill, evicts Hannah in a passionless fight, and ends the season by making out with a stranger who demonstrates, with the little screen time he gets, that he is the kind of person Marnie can easily position herself over. To quote the League, he outkicks his coverage on her. If Marnie seemed in the pilot like the classic beauty - the one who should be naked instead of Hannah, as Hannah herself points out - by the season finale, she is clamoring for attention from the most desperate of sources.

Jessa's cousin, Shoshanna Shapiro (played by Zosia Mamet), knows Marnie and Hannah peripherally. As safely she is ensconced midday in a Snuggie on her ecstatically coordinated couch, she is an NYU student living in the security of her aunt's willingness to pay for her apartment and enable her to live the Sex and the City dream. Shoshanna loudly proclaims her allegiance to SatC, to Facebook, to products, and to the fact of Jessa's superiority in being ignorant or avoidant of these things. Becoming friends with Jessa, Hannah, and Marnie means reckoning with her socially aggravated shame in being sexually untried. In the course of rectifying this - a course dotted by witnessing Jessa having sex, being rejected mid-act by a boy who doesn't like virgins, and stripping in the street after accidentally smoking crack - Shoshanna attracts a man. Charlie's best friend, Ray, whose fat-headed, voracious know-it-all-ism seems to place him on another planet from Shoshanna's hyper-focused, endlessly analytic naivete, but her personhood overrides. Although the season ends with her having sex with Ray, she mandates the terms. She is not featured as consistently as Hannah, Marnie, or Jessa, but her character is painstakingly wrought. She has her every gesture under a high-powered microscope with Starbucks and Chanel logos all over it. She believes in the rules, but she understands there is a space beyond that, and Jessa lives there. Jessa does not care, and in the pilot, Shoshanna admires her for that with Beatles-caliber admiration. But the season finale features Jessa getting married, and she did not care enough to alert Shoshanna, her own cousin. This is a betrayal of the Rules that reflects poorly on Shoshanna and declares absolutely that Jessa does not care about Shoshanna at all on terms that truly mean something to her. In the same episode, Marnie - "the Ideal" - moves in with Shoshanna, so the next season may see her admiration shift its intense, unwavering focus.

III. Girls

Girls, Season One

Episode 1, PilotTuberculosis in a garret.
Favorite Moment: Having watched this episode so many times and with the whole season behind me now, I am really in awe of the first scene: how Hannah falls apart, pokes holes in her own argument, and reveals herself to be so totally vulnerable so immediately. "Two abortions, right in a row." Rewatching it, there are so many red herrings planted in this episode, particularly the exposition-ridden drug store run with Hannah and Marnie when Marnie seems to roll out the plot to unfold between Hannah and Jessa, reinforcing their roles as Hannah the impulsive push-over, Jessa the mischievous eater of souls, and Marnie the long-suffering model of best friendliness. This pays off on repeat viewings in the glow of how off on her own Hannah is in pursuit of her desires, how Jessa's appearance is ostensibly to handle a bad situation she is determined enough to overcome (and how much she needs others as opposed to taking people for granted), and how Marnie railroads her friends when they seek genuine friendship from her.

The first time I saw Tiny Furniture, I eviscerated it to myself. I wrote a review that never ran where it was accepted, which facilitated my reassessment of it. Something I now glowingly admire about the film - like the oeuvres of Woody Allen and Whit Stillman - is how language demonstrates what isn't being evidenced through action. The characters don't listen to each other in order to enable a genuine give-and-take of ideas. They wait for cues to be themselves and put on small shows for the other person. It is a very real way of talking that demonstrates next level observational skills about the way people act, which is all kinds of present on Girls and the thing I most love about Dunham's writing. How people communicate is a niche interest. I love Clerks, Death Proof, and Lincoln solely for their screenplays and what those productions do with talking, but most of the people I know hate those films for the same reason I enjoy them. They are movies with a bunch of people talking. Even though I haven't actually seen a parallel drawn - maybe somewhere there has been and I didn't catch it, considering daily there have been hundreds of articles and posts on Dunham in the past year - the coming of Girls reminded me of Diablo Cody and her move from Juno to the United States of Tara. The reigning criticism of Juno - subject matter aside - was how people do not authentically communicate in quips and bon mots. This argument was really whatever for me, considering how the film was about a person for whom choice wasn't really an issue, very little consequence befell her at any point, and the very typical romantic conundrum trumped the fact that she was in high school and pregnant. It was not grounded firmly in reality anyway, but its whimsy really rubs in how perfectly possible it is for a middle class white girl to skate through such an event consequence-free. The extent to which the reality was visible through the fiction diminished my ability to enjoy it considerably, and the flippant tone of the screenplay in its quips, however clever, reinforced the willfully ignorant aspect of the story. The language of Girls and Tiny Furniture reinforces the characters' own delusions which are quickly disproven, undone, or juxtaposed by their actions, effectively complimenting and augmenting the comedy instead of unwittingly reinforcing that, say, Hannah's view of things resemble in any way the way things really are. Although! Sometimes this comes through and sometimes it does not. The next episode features instances of both.

Episode 2, Vagina PanicWhat if I want to feel like I have udders?
Favorite Moment: When Hannah grills Jessa about her feelings about her abortion. As soon as Jessa does open up and admit that being a mother is something she feels strongly about and eventually wants, Hannah co-opts her intimation by doing what Jessa has just stated before that she can't stand: when women tell other women how to feel. Jessa stays perfectly in character by stepping up her statement with what an amazing mother she'll be, and how she'll have the children of many different men of many different races. I love this kind of rhetorical overtaking and how well it demonstrates that Jessa knows how to get Hannah - for whom talking is a superpower - to shut up. Throughout the whole season and Dunham's body of work, I've enjoyed these tokens of intimacy and how they don't add up to anything, how much remains hollow around the characters. Like Jessa states in the pilot, they don't own anybody, no matter how they might have them down to their most unconscious quirks.

This episode sees Hannah getting plowed by Adam and subsequently being tested for STDs. The scene that closes the episode features an absolutely batshit monologue by Hannah in which she talks herself into the impossible idea that she wants AIDS because she will be able to use it to shame those who have made life hard for her - Adam for not being in love with her in a recognizable way, her parents for not taking care of her when she is floundering. So outrageous is her speech to herself that the nurse attendant to her does not really need to respond, but she really does need to respond: not only is Hannah being nuts, she does not know what she's talking about, and when Hannah speaks, she does so with such force an authority that she really needs to watch out. It is one things for morons in comments sections to say things. At the beginning of the episode, in the presence of no one who is listening in order to tell her to watch her mouth, Hannah says she has no sympathy for people who do not use condoms and who therefore contract diseases and get pregnant. Hannah is not aware of people who do not have access to birth control, who do not enjoy the privilege of having a considerable amount of say about what happens to their body and what others do to it, and who do not enjoy the wealth of cultural references she has (after school specials, teen melodramas) in lieu of an intellectually impoverished sex ed curriculum. This is not even on Hannah's mind as she says this, as she does so in reference to her pregnant friend Jessa, her peer. Moves like this tread Juno territory: it might be flippant, but Hannah's supposed to be a dingbat! But the reality is too visible behind the quip. Moments like this don't succeed at painting Hannah as the failmaster and they don't succeed as writing that does what the rest of the show demonstrates it can do.

Episode 3, All Adventurous Women DoWhat I'm having right now is an inappropriate physical reaction to my total joy.
Favorite Moment: Shoshanna watching Baggage. She is an Olympian-league shitty listener which, in her case, comes from her anxiety about how she is perceived. She and Hannah shunt their conversation along by baiting, patient for expected beats, while the other plows along on a rant that foresakes the other party totally. I love that after getting the subject of her virginity off her chest in episode 2, Shoshanna's whole endgame in asking Hannah to watch Baggage with her is to admit to it again.

I love Shoshanna and am looking forward with such verve to when she graduates. If she isn't headed for a meltdown, then I don't know what. I am up for being surprised. I have my money on a full nervous collapse, if only for an episode or two. Shoshanna is more open to surveying her reserves of strength than the people I know in life who she reminds me of, and it would be heartwarming in the far-flung way that TV can be if she really put herself out there and impressed herself with her ability to sail over others and secure a wildly good job. Even though Hannah is played by Dunham, is the main character and the primary point of identification for the viewer, and even though Dunham transparently mines her life for material in a close-to-the-bone way, I have a wish. I wish Hannah's character would divert down a rough path and really struggle and she would find real inspiration and be changed there, and I wish Dunham's real life success would be foisted on crazy Shoshanna who, not equipped with Hannah's scrappiness, might not hit it out of the park. Making a movie is one thing, making a TV show is one thing. Making a first feature the DVD of which debuts on the Criterion Collection, making a first show on HBO that secures massive ratings, unquantifiable media coverage, and award nominations - well, Dunham has considerable experience filming feature-length and serial formats and she also has industry experiences, but these advantages do not add up to those achievements without some very special factors. I would love to see those chances at success given to someone who might not handle it like Dunham did.

Episode 4, Hannah's DiaryThat's a-hella different.
Favorite Moment: Hannah talking herself into forgiving Adam under the guise of yelling at Adam. There are so many layers of manipulation at work. I love it when Hannah loses her footing in an argument as she cannot keep from articulating the absurd truth of what she feels, which in this case is how she wishes Adam would stop being a fuck-up so she could love him without looking like a fool, which will not ever happen. Adam really listens to her in this scene - listens to what she means by what she's saying, ignoring the content. Hannah would rather he hear her accusations and be sassy and eject her from his life, but he hears what she actually means, which is so dangerous. He has such an advantage.

Another scene in this episode that put me off more on repeat viewings than it did the first time is when Hannah's coworkers suss out her unease about - and reveal their cavalier attitudes toward - their boss' handsy-ness. The first time, I had no investment in it, but reviewing what's here demonstrates where things might go, and this scene demonstrates potentially fatal naivete about what it's like for a woman in an office environment. Although it is repulsive that their boss gets away with his actions, the people with whom Hannah commiserates are from very different socioeconomic circumstances and do not enjoy the mobility Hannah has and takes for granted as a young, college-educated white girl. Because the next episode ejects Hannah from this dynamic entirely, nothing more happens. Since the show is built on the foundation of mistakes, its thesis has nothing to do with imparting real wisdom: it's telling a story, not providing a guidebook for one's turbulent twenties. I'm still afraid of incidents that scream "look at this terrible phenomenon that you can observe in the real world - bosses group their employees and jaded, brain-dead wage-drones with no ambition will just let this happen to you because they want for nothing more!" This might be a stretch, but, full disclosure: my professional background has something to do with women of low socioeconomic status in the workplace, a human-scape so rich with terrible phenomena that you can only observe in the real world if you really intently look, and as someone whose situation vastly resembles Hannah's, this whole part of the plot was all sensation for me and no substance. This same episode features Jessa rallying her fellow nannies at the park, attempting to transcend her class and declaring herself "just like all of you," just like the woman who can't get rid of her boyfriend because he has a job at a Verizon store, just like this group of people whose accents demonstrate they might be in the US on very precarious terms. This fail is performed blatantly: it's funny that Jessa thinks that she's like them, because it isn't true. But Hannah's ridiculous episode two rant about wanting AIDS proves that she's got serious nitwit tendencies that will keep her from succeeding - Jessa's blithe failure to identify her faux pas posits her at an advantage. Her thinking she's the same as them does not hurt her, it hurts them. She's foisting her deluded impression onto them and erasing their hardship while she enjoys slumming it. This is a real, ugly, pervasive problem - LOOK AT THIS TERRIBLE PHENOMENON THAT YOU CAN OBSERVE IN THE REAL WORLD - that I would like to see undo something for these characters in coming episodes, lest they just keep happening with no consequence, if only because it is something I want to see period, in life. Because that is a grand-scale mistake and not at their expense.

Episode 5, Hard Being EasyShe could be running off copies at Kinko's and saying that she has a press.
Favorite Moment: That ending, which is Adam's version of Hannah's speech to herself in the previous episode. Since she was clearly distressed but gave Adam the chance to persuade her, he does the same on his own absurd terms. Considering the irreparable communication breakdown that Marnie and Hannah suffer in a subsequent episode, this anticipates Adam's unique brand of empathy - superior to Marnie's boundary-erasing telepathy - as he demonstrates it for the duration of the series. The first time I watched Girls, I felt he was being rendered in broad and emotionally manipulative strokes to seem conveniently good and conveniently bad as was necessary, but now I appreciate how finely his character is established, how sophisticated he is built in order to accommodate moments like this episode's end and the season finale.

Only after watching the show many, many times did I get to the point of approaching Adam without a lot of emotion. If he were mishandled and romanticized in the wrong way, I would not be able to watch the show. But his character is built up with honesty and objectivity and to the extent he is allowed to be a whole person and not just a monster, his development in the new season is something I am looking forward to almost the very most. Throughout the first three episodes, Hannah's situation with him gets increasingly cringe-worthy: she is trying to justify her involvement with him to herself while he negs her, maintains a flippant attitude about birth control, creates sexual scenarios about her that he does not invite her to participate in, and then maybe transmits her an STD. All this happens before he accidentally sends her a sext not intended for her. Only after auditioning the shame for her friends and coworkers does Hannah feel this must be a dealbreaker and she must give Adam a shot at being someone she can reject. But she cannot reject him, and in this episode she is shocked that he's decided he must reject her. She was looking for an excuse for there not to be a breaking point - and since they are not committed to each other, this is a relief for her - but he sees it as an opportunity to create a breaking point. But since he does like her, he gives her the chance to persuade him. It involves her about as much as she is involved in his fantasies - she's the object, not a participant, but this looks like it comes from Adam's adapted way of forming relationships, and the quality of Hannah's that makes her special is that even though he talks filthy with her but doesn't respond to her attempts to talk dirty back, she relentlessly demonstrates that she's game and wants to be a participant, be his equal and not his object, and he likes this. Genuine monsters would not - they would have adapted their objectification in order to reassert the power they have in their relationships. The next time they talk, Adam listens intently to Hannah talk about a date with another guy like a peer, interested in her feelings - her tryst probably would have had no significance if she could not tell Adam about it afterwards. In the next episode, Adam turns out to be someone with a certain level of commitment to self-betterment who actively works on his problems, but they are legion. By episode eight, his humanity blows wide open, but that's not the climax of the season! Things are complicated so beautifully, so effectively catalyzed for season two! The extreme vulnerability of Hannah and Adam's relationship is so human and great and unlike anything in how layered it is and how very reassuring and right and then how hawkish and creepy it seems is, if nothing else, riveting television and real world terrifying in the way of a tight-rope walk. I didn't used to but I love it now.

Episode 6, the ReturnI know enough to know you don't have to know anybody.
Favorite Moment: Hannah's friend, Heather - every second she's on screen but especially her coffee break with Hannah. I love how much I believe that Hannah has always bonded to these frightening girls out of a sense of feeling genuinely inferior and in awe of their easy likability with disgusting men AND a real and unignorable intellectual superiority that is confounded and amazed by everything they do and say, enabling her to feel safe but realistically in control. Having Heather throw some context on Hannah's past friendships makes Marnie look like a healthy step in the right direction, mass of psychic disease that I perceive her to be.

A quick aside: the street Hannah and Marnie live on looks exactly like my favorite block uptown in Harrisburg.

In the commentary for this episode, Dunham states that she never intended to take the core characters out of New York and was persuaded to do this episode by Judd Apatow. I want to see more of this. I want New York to become a structuring absence eventually. On that note, this episode contains a monologue by Hannah - Adam listens on the phone - about New York versus her Midwestern hometown. Her tryst's huge apartment costs nothing. Hannah says, "I feel like we're all slaves to this place that doesn't even want us" - I appreciate that so far, New York has not been involved in the show like another character. New York has been a money suck, a plastic bag inside of which Hannah, Marnie, Jessa, and Shoshanna are zipped in, airless. When the characters are removed from New York - and I reassert again! They don't have to leave forever, I would just like to see some objectivity - I would like to see what New York is for them at that distance. My original analysis of this episode was very blow-by-blow. This episode's format is different from the rest of them - instead of cutting between stories, it is the unbroken story of Hannah at home. Her parents, who I was not so interested in the first time I watched the show, demonstrate more of the great complex rendering that does whisper by on casual viewing. After only two appearances, Hannah's parents are formed with as much sophistication as Adam, who gets to develop with the force and tempestuousness of his own personality. In the pilot, her mom is the muscle behind Hannah's money getting cut off and her dad is broken watching Hannah get upset and desperate. At some remove from their final push, her dad can say watching her struggle is unpleasant because she does not think Hannah is well-equipped for the world and she might not be a very good writer. Her mom, meanwhile, reveals that she did not cut off Hannah's funds to wake her up from a dream but to encourage her to work which - if her ten page manuscript is any indication - she was not. Broadly, East Lansing, MI, versus NYC could be not working versus working. Hannah cannot afford to be stagnant, work-wise, in New York, whereas even though she would certainly get "a real job, like...a teacher" in Michigan, she totally would not. She would be inclined to do even less. Maybe due to the involvement of Judd Apatow, but this episode was harder to look at objectively for its broadly comic and very entertaining moments which came at a really good time in the season. Dunham remarks somewhere else on another commentary - I think in the last episode, once Chris O'Dowd's on the scene - that she admires the very crafted television of the BBC which come in short seasons where the function of each episode contributes to the overall unit of the season, as opposed to each episode delivering a formula of beats in only a fairly different way each time.

Dunham references Gregory Crewdson at the end of the commentary. Hats off!

Episode 7, Welcome to Bushwick, a.k.a. the CrackcidentIt was a glass cigarette.
Favorite Moment: After this episode first aired, many reviewers remarked upon the Sex and the City trope that was called-out wherein all the girls stand together in a line to regard something. Although it only showed up to me upon repeat viewings, this struck me as poignant in how different the show is from one that relies on formula. Formula is a comforting thing. Unlike the characters on Sex and the City, whose relationship dynamics are occasionally labored into their hackneyed plot lines, these characters are not crystalline BFFs. By the end of the season, none of the relationships that seemed worth the risk are intact, but in that moment in this episode, they're styled as a band of friends. My best friends and I have a thing we call "the Wonderful Winter," which was the time between the premiers of Kill Bill volumes one and two when we hung out every single day and spent every waking moment occupying a shared experience including world events, media, and horror movie hormones. Years later, that time became a major point of reference since it represented what we perceived as enduring, significant friendships when they were really just part of a time that did not make it past the Bride taking Bill down with the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique. Similarly, I am willing to bet Marnie and Hannah share a golden age of friendship. By this point they exist totally unaware that the halcyon days of whatever was their own Wonderful Winter are gone, but dawn comes before the season ends.

Speaking of self-mythologizing, which is brought up by name in the first scene after the title (part of Hannah's self-mythology is a years-old case of mono that requires her to get cat-hours of sleep every nigh), the title sequence is movie-elaborate. This is them in their movie, what New York Life should be - in the fifth episode, Jessa encourages Hannah to put the moves on her boss "for the story," but this is the force of how much each girl wants THIS to be the Story: a big party where Jessa's in a feather vest, Shoshanna's beglittered, Marnie looks like "one of those Real Housewives," and Hannah looks like she rolled out of bed, ready for whatever - these are their Authentic Selves! More than any other episode, this contains moments more than others where the characters, none of whom are writers besides Hannah, would probably in retrospect declare "that would make such a great short story." The revelation about Adam's Alcoholics Anonymousness, Marnie's pity party tour that climaxes in her getting smacked, Jessa accidentally getting her boss punched and having to take him to a clinic, Ray chasing Shoshanna through Bushwick. Dunham in the commentary remarks that this episode does not enable anyone to get away with their nonsense. Everyone hits a wall and is forced to change which is what makes it actually cinematic and worth that title sequence and what gloriously negates their hopes for the night: their Authentic Selves are not going to win them ideal lives, they are going to plunge them into strange and transformative encounters and experiences involving penetrative eye-contact and crack and wounds to the face.

Episode 8, Weirdos Need Girlfriends, TooEndorphins don't work on me.
Favorite Moment: I liked the way this episode functioned in relationship to the others, what it called back and what kind of changes it allowed the last episodes to yield (none of which could be possible without the previous episode - it's all one big excellent machine, this story). My favorite of these is just a spark of hope: four episodes ago, Ray looked at a photo of Marnie's family and said that when he sees families like hers, he wonders if they aren't all having sex with each other. Over drinks, in this episode, as they talk about sex, Jessa asks Marnie if she lost her virginity to her cousin. I love that Marnie is constantly perceived by others as an alien. Unlike some pedestrian narrative where someone like Hannah is ostracized and someone like Marnie is adored, these characters are not in high school and recognize that something is deeply amiss with someone who characterizes herself as an "ideal." Hannah, meanwhile, has a boyfriend. All this to say, my favorite moment was Jessa and Marnie's night out.

It took viewings to get over Chris O'Dowd. The IT Crowd is a show that I have such an emotional bond to - engages me on a very inarticulate, jubilant level, so it was hard to organize my analytical faculties while he was on screen. Even though the mere sight of him doesn't throw the episode into IT Crowd-caliber zaniness - his accent is appropriately unsettling, he is decidedly unlovable - still, I'm human. Now knowing that he and Jessa end up married in the season finale and still together in the coming season, I am excited for his petulant rant to echo in forthcoming episodes. Jessa's decision to marry O'Dowd's character - who is revealed to be named Thomas-John - is not based on the convenience of him being the only non-Adam/Ray/Charlie, with whom the other characters are all ready busy. Jessa's just been fired and she's upset and Hannah was supposed to comfort her. Hannah's busy being in love. Marnie is also vulnerable, being kicked in the gut as she is by the end of her four-year relationship with Charlie and subsequent discovery of his new relationship initiated only days after they broke up. Together, Jessa and Marnie go out on a girls' night. Jessa is distressed by Thomas-John's flirtatious gesture of sending them a round of drinks but Marnie is all for it. She beckons him over. She wants to get crazy! And she feels safe in doing so because she's with Jessa, Crack Spirit Guide extraordinaire. If Marnie were with Hannah, Marnie's behavior would set the example, but Marnie does not have to worry about that responsibility here. She facilitates Thomas-John's successful pick up. The three of them go back to his apartment. Both Marnie and Jessa are nervous. When Marnie kisses Jessa in order to assuage her nerves, Jessa consents - it is an expression of love and care, and that's what Jessa wants, that's what she was hoping to get from Hannah. But Marnie does it to arouse Thomas-John. He persists in being inappropriate and explodes childishly at both of them for ruining his rug and withholding sex from him. They leave. In the immediate aftermath, it seems like Thomas-John was the arch-beast of the evening, but it was Marnie who completely ignored Jessa's feelings and her need for a nice drink, a long talk, and some relief from men projecting their desires onto her. Marnie is lost without being realized as an ideal by someone. When Thomas-John shows up at Jessa's door, although she probably was, as she states in the finale, prepared to call the Special Victim's Unit, he was not the villain the way Marnie was, and even if his interest in Jessa comes from a totally twisted place, he isn't pretending to be her friend the way Marnie was and the way Jeff was. Jessa is such a recognizable type and one so easily demonized that the way she is so completely and humanly rendered never stops astonishing me.

Episode 9, Leave Me AloneYou are the wound!
Favorite Moment: The book party and the reading! This episode thrills me even upon repeat viewings since it opens up the possibility for there to be any mining of the New York literary publishing world. I eat that nonsense up, the more remote and shimmering the better. Since Dunham sold Not That Kind of Girl this year, I hope in seasons to come, even if Hannah doesn't get that lucky, that more of the haute litscape is in the show. Agents! Publicists! The whole grand mechanism!

I did not read the New Yorker recaps until recently but what Richard Brody disliked about this episode, my friend Heather disliked as well. Her assessment of the ending as a hyper-cliched best-friend blow-up made more of an impression on me than Brody's since, at the time, we were embroiled in this verbal hopscotch game with someone else involving so much implied meaning and passive aggression that I couldn't believe a little plainness and exposition didn't feel refreshing to her. The end fight comes off as less nuanced than the dialogue typical of the show so far. This scene has a real and effective function in its echoing of the pilot. There, Marnie's red herring exposition did nothing but, in retrospect, reinforce her very warped outlook on her relationship with Hannah. All those coping mechanisms cave and this scene demonstrates the failure of communication - as many levels as it's working on - to do anything generative for them anymore. Everything Marnie says is a symptom of her delusions and the same is true for Hannah. They need to become totally separate humans. If they took two years off from each other, when they spoke again, they would not even know how to enter a conversation. Everything would seem like a stab because that is what words have become for them. No longer sharing a limb and having the other down to their slightest idiosyncrasy, they would have to engage each other as humans and they don't see each other that way. Will they? I'm glad it seems like the next season they're out of each other's orbit. That will effectively refresh them both. Within the same episode, this confrontation rhymes with Katherine's confrontation with Jessa. Hannah and Marnie's fight starts out with Hannah wanting to unload about her evening to a fragile Marnie who is throwing some of her belongings away after reading a book about suicide. That is not what the book is to Hannah - it's the book by her nemesis, Tally, and she accuses Marnie of not caring about her feelings and coveting Tally's friendship over her's. Marnie says she is always the listener and since she's had things to discuss, Hannah hasn't been there for her. Hannah's rebuttal is that she should have discussed things - specifically her feelings about her ex, Charlie - before they broke up in order to avoid these "overwrought" conversations. I love this. Since there are many endgames to speaking, I love that Hannah, who is most certainly a venter, can't read the venting of others. Re her conduct with Jessa in the second episode - Hannah tries to help and panics when her listeners vent. She feels like she has to provide some help. I digress: their fight is full of yelling and accusations. Katherine comes to see Jessa and tells her a dream full of balls-out symbolism involving her murdering, dissecting, and consuming Jessa. Jessa's face in this scene might actually be my favorite moment in the whole show because she is so interested and nonjudgmental - there are even moments I like to think she recognizes that dream. She is on board to listen and take everything Katherine has to say in stride - she knows she handled things with her husband, who tried to come onto her in the previous episode - as best she could. Then Katherine tells her the reason she can't be furious with her for contributing to the dissolution of her marriage is because Jessa probably gets into those situations a lot in order to avoid self-examination. Since Jessa gets projected into chronically, this is exactly the wrong thing, but this is unspoken. The extent to which this is a blow-up moment is only identifiable after the debris settles in the finale.

Episode 10, She DidYour dreams are not what you thought they'd be!
Favorite Moment: Shoshanna's interactions with Ray prior to their going to bed, during which she demonstrates so much self-possession and so much of what Ray observes in his remark about her vibrating to her own strange frequency. A specific moment in particular: during the vows, Shoshanna's shushing of Ray, her rejection of his consolation. Shoshanna prizes her relationship with Jessa, and Jessa has demonstrated in a way most devastating to Shoshanna that she doesn't prioritize her that way. This along with Marnie's rejection of Hannah, Shoshanna's adoption of Marnie as a roommate and Jessa's leap into the weird unknown posits, I surmise, Hannah and Jessa being the best segue into next season. Theirs is the relationship I want to see more of after that their talk in the bathroom in this episode, when Hannah kisses her as she's wriggling away. So far, teaser trailers confirm this.

In conclusion! I've been working on this draft since the finale aired in June. This season did not let these characters get away with much of anything. I am prepared and excited for the second season beginning on January 13. Dunham has stated that the coming season addresses the issue of diversity as it caused the biggest uproar when the show first premiered. Since this show was conceived in a vacuum - except for how Dunham took a prize at SXSW for Tiny Furniture and snagged the chance to work with Judd Apatow - Dunham wasn't creating the work in reaction to anything, and now the characters will be developing with their creator conscious of what's happening to them out in the world, how the decisions are being perceived. As stated to Judd Apatow in his recent edition of Vanity Fair, one of Dunham's twelve things she learned this year was, "People will always find something in your work to argue with. Get used to being humbled, shutting out the noise, second-guessing yourself, and realizing that one out of six times those cretins are right." To end this round of analyses subjectively, I think she chose the right criticism to consider seriously and I'm excited to see what results it yields. But this is only the second season and far from missing the characters like I do on Parks and Recreation, I don't feel (all my flagrant projections aside) like I know them yet, and only after seeing the whole first season together do I conclude that each of these characters merit being known to their fullest extent.


Related posts:
We're not going to be supporting you any longer: on Girls criticism.
Doing their blue dissolve.
When a Girl Writes in Her Diary and No One's There to Read It: on the Leaking of Lena Dunham's Book Proposal.

Appendix:
Dear Television
The Slate roundtable recaps at the XX Factor and BrowBeat
"The Loves of Lena Dunham" by Elaine Blair for the New York Review of Books
 "It's Different for Girls" by Emily Nussbaum for New York Magazine
"The Ability to be Fascinating" by Hilton Als for the New Yorker

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The eye is really the heart of your head.

In the last few days I've read the latest from both Birds of Lace and Unthinkable Creatures: TWINS by Megan Milks and SPLIT by Liz Latty, respectively. I can't believe I'm living now when this great work is getting made. To say nothing of the exponentially beautiful work on Dancing Girl. This is electrifying. When I was a freshman in high school I had a giant coffee table book on punk rock in the UK and used to boil with envy looking at the girl with hair like a cat and the guys in the homoerotic cowboy shirts and get all depressed that I missed the zeitgeist (in my room, surrounded in my house on three sides by corn fields, the closest commercial things an independent grocer on one side and Walmart on the other). Reading did not make me feel better then and exacerbated my sense of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In addition to being some of my favorite things I've read this year, in league with my zillionth rereading of Nabokov's Ada, the work coming out of these writers on these presses makes me feel lucky, excited, and all the better for being here.



I received every Dorothy: a Publishing Project title for Christmas. A whole lot of blown minds are headed my way.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The pink jewel of her own brain.

Like the character Pansy Vanneman in her electrifying story "The Interior Castle," [Jean] Stafford became an ironic spectator of her own ruined life. In the story, as surgery looms, Pansy lies alone in her hospital bed gazing with numb icy clarity at the pink jewel of her own brain: "the physical organ itself which she envisaged, romantically, now as a jewel, now as a flower, now as a light in a glass, now as an envelope of rosy vellum containing other envelopes."

- David Laskin, Partisans: Marriage, Politics, and Betrayal among the New York Intellectuals
I feel very stuck in bed, staring at my brain across the room, coveting it, dreaming of how great my life would be if only that thing was in my head. While stuck, I have been reading Partisans and it is outrageous and rivaling maybe my favorite literary biography, the Talented Ms. Highsmith. This is hard to do because that book has this in it.

I had occasion to speak of Beth Evans at Anobium this week. If she charged for her wares, I would spend. This week's Outer Space exploded with good news. Check it all out - everything! Karen Lillis posted my year-end list of five small press titles beyond worth buying. They are frothingly worth it. But the list is not comprehensive. I also wrote about money at Very Literary. Also not comprehensive. Look at my brain over there, fogging up the glass it's under.

I am still breaking myself of the habit of writing research papers when I am to be writing small things. I still get weird about small things. I don't have the mental wherewithal for a big thing. I underestimate the bigness of what I'm doing offscreen, of course. I am six and three stories, respectively, into two short story series projects. They're ravishingly muscular things. Sinewy. My novel project is like a plain full of nerve endings and badly needs a skin grafted in order for me to work on it better, to be more attendant to its needs. My novella's a fistful of hair.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

If a Girl Writes in Her Diary and No One's There to Read It: on the Leaking of Lena Dunham's Book Proposal.

Lena Dunham's proposal for her book, Not That Kind of Girl: a Young Woman Tells You What She's "Learned," was leaked by Gawker last week. It's since been removed.

John Cook's reasons for citing the quotes from the Not That Kind of Girl proposal - quotes which can, at this time, still be read - which originally appeared on Gawker without criticism or analysis:
  • ...a nauseating and cloying posture of precociousness that permeates the entire proposal.
  • ...she has been examining her own thoughts and desires analytically from an absurdly young age.
  • Dunham's self-dramatizing narcissism...[demonstrates] a desire for an attention-grabbing condition [as well as] a fear of developing said condition.
  • ...her obsessive and boundaryless relationship with her mother...
  • ...an oblivious cluelessness about time and its passage.
  • ...a self-awareness on Dunham's part that the subject of her proposal - herself - was raised in exquisite privilege.
  • Dunham was so desperate to have the minutiae of her life - and her dietary choices - validated by cultural arbiters that she participated in coverage of a dinner party by the New York Times....[And] she periodically deploys such validation as suits her needs.
  • Come on. Poetry camp?
  • ...by way of a blithe and effortless reference to her mother's domestic service-provider...Dunham [demonstrates that she] exists in a navel-gazing bubble of privilege where one's mother simply has a nutritionist.
  • The quoted sentence is preposterously hackneyed and demonstrates an "I workshopped it at Oberlin" level of quality...
  • Dunham and her friends cruelly mocked a young girl struggling with her weight.
  • Dunham is incapable of conceiving a rationale for writing that doesn't serve the goal of drawing attention to herself.
The remark about the "nauseating and cloying posture of precociousness that permeates the entire proposal" is repeated again and again.

Incapable of conceiving a rationale for writing that doesn't serve the goal of drawing attention to herself.

Since Dunham's work is such occasion for generative discussion, it's disappointing to see examination of that work become occasion for complaining. One of my favorite pieces of Girls criticism is from Gawker as well, the April article "Hipster Racism Runoff and the Search for the Black Costanza," in which Cord Jefferson concludes: "When we look at Lena Dunham and Jerry Seinfeld, we see people with whom we have a lot in common. When they look at us, they see strangers."

Feminist Film had words about this in October. Although I found the reaction to Girls' premiere disproportionate and said so, after the incidents that dotted the airing of the first season, I agree massively with FF that apologizing for and defending Dunham et al from charges of racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, privilege, etc, is egregious. If the personnel involved can make Girls, which is worth examination, they can face those criticisms - and that is where the broken thinking on their part was exposed, in reaction to criticism. As much as I think Dunham is genuinely skilled and I am excited to see how her work grows as this informs her, it isn't possible to consider without also thinking of the people who, by virtue of their not being white, cisgendered, able, et al, don't have a shot this day - not even of creating their own HBO show! They are not able to be judged so delicately, to have their work considered something that could be far-reaching and relateable and inclusive just because it begins with white, cisgendered, able people but could widen its scope. The notion of a scope having to be widened to accommodate people who are people as much as anybody is embarrassing.

But Cook's annotations are not Feminist Film's or Jefferson's criticisms. They serve only to reinforce that Cook does not like Dunham's subject: herself. Self-involvement is a part of Dunham's routine. Self-involvement is the kind of quality that is so interior, people who have problems with self-involved people seem offended by the self-involved party's inability to be perceptive about the other. This has been my experience. If a person demonstrates a self-involved nature, and I find that might compromise my ability to deal with that person, deal-breaker. But Dunham is not my friend. Her creative persona, Hannah Horvath, et al, are devised for the sake of entertainment. Toxic self-involvement is a facet of the entitled, educated white person for whom "having it all" is a genuine cause for crisis - the kind of person Dunham explores in her work. The extent to which she can be objective about it, enjoying the astonishingly exceptional life that she does, is, frankly, her problem and no one else's, as all it affects is her ability to do her work. The work either entertains, informs, challenges, or critically examines, or it fails. If a twenty-year-old girl looks at Dunham and says, I don't want people to think I am that self-involved, maybe that girl will take a step back and recognize that she and Dunham are different people and that one girl is not all girls. The idea that something one girl does is interpreted as "something that girls do" - and likewise, "twenty-year-old" can be substituted for "girl" - is repulsive. Maybe that will inspire that person to tell their own story.

These remarks are not judgment - they are the textual equivalent of crossing one's arms and pouting. Since they were posted in the aftermath of the proposal's removal, they were all the more disappointing since, having read the proposal, I was ready to see something really engage with the text.

If Lena Dunham did not want people to laugh at the self-involvement affected by her creative persona, she would not lay it on so thick, and it has never been so thick as in this book. In Girls, self-involvement is a substantial facet of each character and is cultivated to serve a different purpose for each of them. Marnie's manifests in her martyr complex, Jessa's as a protective measure against the tendency of others to project onto her. Shoshanna is self-involved because she's overwhelmed and embarrassed by her own complexity, scrutinizing her every action in order to cultivate the kind of behavior she thinks - warped as she is - is desired and acceptable. Hannah is beholden to a self-involved nature. She is fascinated by the behavior of others but her perception is not a precision instrument. She has not lived a lot, but that fascination is not the kind of thing one keeps a lid on until something is worth it. Fascination gets spent wherever it can focus. In the case of each of these characters, this alone provides a springboard from which they are triggered, if the narrative is so inclined, to change with ungraceful force and fervor. It is this potential that makes Girls worth my attention.

That said, what of Not That Kind of Girl can be gleaned from this proposal reads like Hannah's inner monologue. Without the context - Girls illustrates the function self-involvement serves socially - the reader has only to react against the text. If the reader doesn't find short-sightedness a funny quality, if it defines the place where "art" turns into a bid to get attention, then this book is not for that reader.

Doing it for attention - I would like to surgically extract that phrase from the vernacular. It implies something done solely for the benefit of others, solely to gain an audience that will thereafter be disappointed because the attention-getter has nothing, really, worth looking at. If an artist gets by without an audience, that's that artist's prerogative. But to say that an artist is not entitled to generate interest, to generate an audience, smacks of envy. Envy annihilates an argument. It reduces an argument to a complaint, to I have been inconvenienced.

The section of the book I am most looking forward to reading is the one about her experience in therapy. It does not appear in the proposal. A considerable amount of the proposal is previously published material.

The most significant thing I took away from the proposal was the total astonishment that Cook picked out what he picked out, zeroing-in on what he asserted signified her relentless self-involvement. If I was in attack-mode, there are many, many, many other parts of the text I would have emphasized.

From what I am able to gather from the samples included in the proposal - which, again, includes a great deal of previously published material - this is a take-down of the advice genre, a disassembling from the marrow, as delivered by someone who cannot guide herself out of a self-imploding sentence, let alone readers in matters personal or professional. That is, I realized - after I took a step back - what I was expecting. Dunham has stated this is not a serious advice book. In the way of a disclaimer, the subtitle bears those quotation marks around the word learned. She does not believe a person of her age has anything to legitimately impart in the way of advice and has cited the absurdity of books like He's Just Not That Into You and people who believe themselves to be experts on matters such as dating.

I am bracing myself for all the people who will read this book very literally. It could undergo radical changes as it forms. Since the pieces included in the proposal have appeared elsewhere as stand-alone articles, those approaching the work with preconceived notions might take their appearance to signify the book was not written in jest.

I can't wait to see what happens.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Usual Division.

We are all doomed to be actors, in the sense that our abilities and deficiencies will guide us, in certain ways if not in others, to becoming active participants in a productive society, whether we like that society or not. Alas, we will be participants even if we hate it: terrorism, which will not tolerate a passive audience, is already part of the show. But to palliate that condition, we are nowadays much more free to be thinkers than is commonly supposed. The usual division is to treat our daily job as the adventure and our cultural diversions as a mere mechanism of renewal and repose. But the adventurous jobs are becoming more predictable all the time, even at the level of celebrity and conspicuous material success. Could there be anything less astonishing than to work day and night on Wall Street to make the millions that will buy the Picasso that will hang on the wall of our Upper East Side apartment to help convince us and our guests that we are lucky to know each other? I have been in that apartment, and admired the Picasso, and envied its owner: I especially envied him his third wife, who had the same eyes as Picasso’s second mistress, although they were on different sides of her nose. But I didn’t envy the man his job. In the same week, I was filming in Greenwich Village, and spent an hour of down-time sitting in a cafe making my first acquaintance with the poetry of Anthony Hecht. I couldn’t imagine living better.

-  Clive James, Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Classic novels and replica books.

In September, I interviewed Amanda Kloehr on the first really fall afternoon. I was so pleased to get to speak to her - she is a firecracker - and she's gone on to talk to outlets like CBSNY and CNN about distracted driving. Therefore I am all the more excited that my interview with Kloehr is not only live at Harrisburg Magazine but also available in the December issue, now in stores! Patti and Len, the editors, have been and continue to be outrageously supportive of me, and I'm so glad they liked the story. The feedback on Amanda's link to it on her Facebook really knocked me out. I've never seen such a substantial and heartfelt reaction to a single piece I've done.

Next, I'm talking to the MakeSpace.

I am proud of how different things are now. In September they were not so good. Things are astounding now. I'll unfold it all soon but for now I will say that I'm reading Kate Durbin's Kept Women from Insert Blanc Press, and it only gets better from there. That means I have an unreasonable amount of good things going for me, and Kept Women is vintage brilliant Kate D. However I'm recommending required literature of this era in whatever format, Kate Durbin's work will be snugly comprehensive on that list - it is unavoidably important.

Monetarily things are interesting (it isn't a euphemism but I acknowledge that money, no matter the circumstance, is not interesting in any way) so I'm exploring methods of funding (an experiment borne of some freedom, freedom being the real interesting part). This blog was rejected by AdSense and I'm a little bit proud. I successfully signed up for the Amazon Affiliate Program. Upon entering the Affiliate Portal, I was confronted by this Accoutrements Horse Head Mask, which makes plain, I think, how things are going to be from now on.

My boyfriend and I went to Gettysburg to celebrate being together for two years. We went to walk around the square, sleep, and partake of something called sweetbread that has nothing to do with the sweetbreads, Hannibal Lector and so forth. While reading in bed - I brought the Paris Review interviews collections and he had every book about Lincoln and Lincoln's cabinet ever - my boyfriend laughed a sustained fit for an alarming length of time about a Twitter account called jazzdad. He's not over it yet.

Monday, November 26, 2012

No one ever ends up thanking god for meeting me.

Anobium has two new features in effect: Outer Space and Commerce in Shall. Outer Space orbits its concern around links (to features, to articles, to blog posts, to tumblr tags) that might otherwise get lost in the ether. Commerce in Shall is named after Catherine Wagner's "Macular Hole" and, every Friday, celebrates the efforts of writers, presses, designers and beyond who deserve the consideration of readers' paychecks.

Also at Anobium, I embarked on the personal initiative to investigate my canon, starting with Dennis Cooper's the Marbled Swarm. Reading the Marbled Swarm was occasion for me in the first place to consider what becomes and rigidly stays My Favorite because - even though it's new and I just read it for the first time in May - it was very meta for me in how reading it required me to confront a lot of what I get out of reading and what I look for in books.

And then Dennis Cooper dedicated a post to Anna Karina, the subject of Say you're a fiction, on his blog.

Next I think I'll do Nabokov's Ada. Recently I've encountered books that are new to me and speak to old impulses, that I love because they reassert how things are constant - I don't know why that's comforting right now, as the constants are not all that wonderful. I get madly fragile in the winter. Stretching back, a good number of the last winters have been weird. This one's shaping up to be revelatory. I don't mean to be obtuse - especially when I haven't updated all over the place - but I do have good news and all kinds of details to share very soon. But: I just finished the Group, and apart from loving it now as I've never read it before my first reaction was still "I would have loved this in college!" which I think is my limp psyche's attempt to integrate the strata of my reading life.

As I'm running my hands over those rings maybe I will review individual poems. Maybe I won't inflict that on Anobium. Poems themselves have, by and large, greater permanence than whole collections, and I am also hard-pressed to love an entire album, so I assume that's my quirk. One time someone I admired enormously said Roethke's "the Waking" brought me to mind. I do not expect this person remembers that comment that has loomed in my thinking ever since. Any petty interrogation of my behavior that's ever come since I've wanted to explain with the poem. But that's insane.

Likewise, crazy: spent a cumulative month bleakly muttering Plath's "Daddy" over small disputes and potential disappointments re aforementioned authority. After all this was over I started watching Mad Men. Season two's creative volley between authority Don and protege Peggy resulting in her going "What did you bring me, Daddy?" still has the power - as of latest test over Thanksgiving weekend - to make me cry like an idiot.

Also touching and seasonally appropriate in its joyousness, Liz's portrait of Marina Abramovic, soon to live with me:

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Sciences et nouvelles croyances.

Caketrain issue ten is available for pre-order!


Featuring: Emily Anderson, Aaron Apps, Adam Atkinson, Steve Barbaro, Chloë Bass, Carrie Bennett, Lena Bertone, Elaine Bleakney, Amelia Boldaji, Whitney DeVos, Logan Fry, Lewis Gesner, Michelle Gil-Montero, Nicholas Grider, Andréa Griffon, Elizabeth Hall, j/j hastain, Amorak Huey, Aby Kaupang, David Kutz-Marks, Carlos Lara, Kari Larsen, Norman Lock, Michael D. Main, Peter Markus, Julia Martin, Rich McIsaac, Carson McWhirter, Thibault Raoult, Anne Marie Rooney, Forrest Roth, Kathryn Scanlan, Hyunhye Seo, Farren Stanley, Jacob Sunderlin, Russell Swensen, Zayne Turner, Cheryl Clark Vermeulen, Jessalyn Wakefield, Rob Walsh, Andrew West, and Chelsea Wolfe.

My story, I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles, can be read in the preview, so get clicking.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Paneling.

The Third Annual Harrisburg Book Festival was this past weekend, and on Saturday, I was a featured speaker on a craft and publishing panel. The context has the greater significance for me: the Scholar moved to its current space in 2010, right after/as I graduated college. I don't think it had been there very long, having just moved from its place in an attic up the street, when I took the bus with what had to be all my money in the world, to peer in and get waved away because I did not have the foresight to confirm their hours. I went back again when they were opened and have ever since been suffering Where the Heart is-type fantasies of being locked in and having to live there. When the first festival took place, I knew about it, but was still living a half-hour's car ride away, marginally employed, and very depressed. When the festival occurred the following year, I basked in the contrast between how down I had been, unwilling to try and go, frustrated with myself, and there I was taking notes for an article about the festival. I was prowling through the art monographs when I received an email from the Caketrain editors accepting a story I was so proud of and enduringly over the moon to have in their care. So this was significant.

Catherine Lawrence, co-owner (with her husband) of the Midtown Scholar, greeted and complimented me so highly in such astonishing sentences - Catherine's elocution itself made me feel profoundly privileged to have been selected by her. She can speak. I had to hang onto that throughout the panel and was very rigid with myself about mitigation. As soon as I hear myself mitigating I get grunting-and-moaning frustrated and the whole thing slides into a sub-par Chewbacca impression. Such were my concerns as I nabbed the center chair between Ann Elia Stewart and the Reverend Nathaniel Gadsden. Ann also writes at WITF and Rev. Gadsden and I have a very good mutual friend in poet Maria Thiaw, so things were very cozy. I had to control the mic, therefore I had to sit in the middle, or else I would have been a harried mess of yelling since my party was in the very back. We discussed - very neatly - our individual formations as writers, our relationship to writing communities, and the variously intimate and isolating process of attempting to and ultimately publishing. I was very proud to take some audience members to school on the subject of the small press and the chapbook. As a homage, I mentioned Caketrain. Catherine's moderation was spectacular. A question about Nanowrimo occasioned me to paraphrase Rod Serling, but only I knew that. Given more time, I would have attributed the paraphrasal because I think of it constantly: the benefit to applying that kind of thousand-words-a-day discipline consistently across your writing life is that you get your voice firmly in your head and no longer surprise yourself by producing what you think, in the night after a wild day of working, is a masterpiece, and then waking up to discover you've given birth to excrement. He says it way snappier.

Someone in my party quipped that all they were able to bring to the occasion was a seat in the audience, to which I reply (always): the audience is the most important part of the panel. The audience for this particular panel was jam-packed with many people standing. The decision to host it on Stage Two, in "the Classroom," was one I was delighted by ahead of time and even happier about when I saw the space swell up. The Classroom is where the literary fiction is now and where I spend most of my time on visits. It does not the thoroughfare that the main stage can be. It was perfect, everything about it. My heart is still coming out of my clothes.

My party and I said hellos to Cherie and Stephen in the subterranean rare books space, Robinson's, and I was ecstatic with their reception of my article. I stole some covetous glances at their prints and flitted through the Scholar's new basement expanse. There is so much peace back there. The shelving is from a library. I did not want to leave, but the bathroom on that level isn't operational yet.

I got to meet Harvey Freedenburg! He writes Arts & Entertainment for HMag also and, during the panel, was holding it down on Twitter. I voiced my affection for Twitter and, in the aftermath of the panel, Catherine confirmed to me the need next year for a panel on digital publishing and technological advancements in traditional publishing. When I say I can't wait, I am nevertheless willing to absorb what sort of year the one in between then and now will be. It will be good. My good fortune - all the forces and things that enable me to exercise my passions every day - is rearing its head as blatantly as possible in time for me to seem that much more eloquent at Thanksgiving. But my luck is tremendous. I am so happy. I hope I can get it together and use what this gives me to generate feelings like this in others. That's my objective for the coming year. Yes.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Slough of Despond.

Overture:

Below lies an announcement roundup. First, how things are. I've been reading the Group. Every few pages I look up Mary McCarthy online. I love in that her Paris Review interview she's writing the Group and saying what a big deal the mothers are. I love all the references made within the text to the terms created by their mothers. Terms for things. "Or [x], as mother calls it." Today my friend called her mother to demonstrate their crackling dynamic as a parent-child team and her mother hung up on her.

I proofed my short story that will be LEADING issue ten of Caketrain, which is a dream come true. I am drafting statements to read on Satuday (see below) and my love of collaborating with editors and submitting to journals as a means of establishing relationships, about loving that part of publishing. The love of Caketrain's editors for what they do is so palpable.

Now:

1. The latest Very Literary at WITF is all about Curtis Smith. Curtis and I have internet and small press world acquaintances in common but live down the highway from each other. He has a new book, Beasts and Men, coming out from Press 53 this spring!

2. Last month I interviewed and came to love everything about Stephen and Cherie Fieser, who rule the Midtown Scholar basement's sub-business Robinson's Rare Books and Fine Art Prints, and the interview is now ALIVE at Harrisburg Magazine Online! I'm going to go crazy in the subterranean Scholar on Saturday. Do you remember what Saturday is?

3.

Saturday, November 10!
2 pm!
Stage 2 at the Midtown Scholar!
Craft + Publishing Panel
with ME,
Nathaniel Gadsden, and Ann Elia Stewart!
1302 N. Third Street, Harrisburg, PA 17102!
The Third Annual Harrisburg Book Festival!

4.

5a. I've kicked off a new feature on Anobium's website called Outer Space. It's a link-roundup, and the first one is all me (it will be fueled by the varied, wild web staff) and features Kate Zambreno, Roxane Gay, Carina Finn, Leanne Shapton, Emily Keeler, and Sadie Stein.

5b. This new feature (and more!) is to celebrate Ben, ruler of the Anobium kingdom, easing into preparations for Vol. IV, Weird Love, and my becoming the new Web Editor. That would also make these new features my job, to which I would say: my whole job at Anobium is a celebration.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Wraith typing all day for money.

By the time I appear on Stage Two (in the cozy new wing) at the Midtown Scholar on November 10th at 2 p.m. for a panel at the Third Annual Harrisburg Book Festival, I will have worked off all my OVERWHELMING EXCITEMENT. The festival will see only a cool, collected version of what SCREAMS AT YOU FROM ACROSS THE INTERNET.


This panel will be unstoppable, and the Scholar has maple lattes. I would love it if you'd come. 2 p.m. November 10th, 1302 N Third Street, Harrisburg, PA 17102. In advance, I'm telling you that it's okay if you have a coughing fit. I had a coughing fit at the first public reading and talk by a writer I ever attended. My friend shared her hot cider with me on the walk over. The ground was covered in leaves and it was the first time all year we were freezing. We went into the beautiful hall where the reading was ready to start. Coughing is an astonishingly rare thing for me. Little interruptions that necessitate the clearing of the throat: that happens. But I was seized from within by a cough tornado and my professor, seated across the aisle from me, went for what great mind Brad Neely calls the Shame Spell. I may have made up the memory of him following me to the bathroom and forcing an explanation from me, or else it was the manifestation of said spell. Should coughing transpire while I'm on stage, I will respect it.

One can gear up to hear me by listening to me read "Van's Friend in the City" as it was featured in Anomalous issue five earlier this year. "Van's Friend" is from Come as Your Madness, coming next winter from Birds of Lace! Much of what my throat can get away with in this panel will be devoted to how what people like Gina Abelkop is doing is the most important thing. My thesis statement is a line from a Patricia Highsmith novel.

Meanwhile, things urgently need to be read: I reviewed Dorothea Lasky's third poetry collection, Thunderbird, at Anobium. I love how this book collided with me. I am really grateful to pulverizingly beautiful books right now, like Kate Zambreno's Heroines, which I reviewed right here yesterday. Today Heroines is officially released and is excerpted at the New Inquiry alongside an awesome interview with Kate Z by Mary Borkowski.

Coming soon: I am working on a new Very Literary at WITF and have two articles in the pipeline at Harrisburg Magazine (web and print!) and big things are a-boom at Anobium. Maybe on November 10th I will leak spoilers. November 10th! 2 p.m.! Midtown Scholar!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Women's Lasers: Kate Zambreno, Heroines.

Since it came in the mail I've been carrying Kate Zambreno's Heroines in my bag and taking it out periodically to hug it. Periodically meaning maybe constantly.


All the faces on it I find soothing. Looking into faces is healing. I went to a concert the other night when I was sick and upset, so sick I could barely stand up, and I am so bad with sound. But I sat on a chair in the crowded room and all the bodies against me felt like hugs. I felt like I was doing the right thing being in that space. Everything was healing.

Even though there is so much Zelda and Vivien(ne), so densely everywhere on every page and invoked by name, which is a very insistent way to inhabit a text, which they deserve, still there is way more Kate Z everywhere.

She says Sheila Heti thinks of Heroines as a novel and I love that. Life and feelings make anything.

I also love that it is not the blog. I like that I can see the blog inside of it, but this is a different form of feelings. The scope and density - it is less fluid, it doesn't behave like a streaming, circling thing using time the way a blog does. Books are one moment. Books are insistent. No matter how many times I read the Bell Jar reading the Bell Jar is still the moment (precious story ahoy) I got only the second A (and the first "real A" because the first one, he said, was given his first year teaching and therefore a rookie mistake) in the history of this major paper in Form & Theory class, the big one I needed to graduate in the writing major. The professor left the room so my classmates and I could take the final and make dry punchy witticism to obscure the oncoming tidal wave of nostalgia. I finished first and waited outside and talked with the professor about MFA programs. Then everybody else came out and the professor took us to the bar. We were their first customers of the day. I had six gin & tonics. My best friend Gretchen was sick and upset. Sick and upset. As drunk as I got the memory of how difficult it was to walk Gretchen back to her apartment endures. It endures with delirious permanence. Then I climbed in my bed and could not be alone with my thoughts and could not read or watch TV so I turned on Maggie Gyllenhaal reading the Bell Jar. I don't need to extrapolate about the sadness of my current state of affairs provoking reflection on high school days, but I have been taking inventory of emotional wounds of that era, like how I reasoned away Scholastic Writing Awards because I did not want to be seen as writing for any reason besides my love of writing, which did not wound me hard because I was reading exclusively interviews with Babes in Toyland and early Hole and Bikini Kill and the message was pervasively do what you love for nobody but you, but I didn't admit to myself I wanted anything until I was more than halfway through college. Patricia Highsmith was the editor of her college literary journal and so was Flannery O'Conner and Plath was supposed to have been and when I was elected mine, I wanted it so bad and it did something so important for me to admit I wanted something and then I got it and ahhhh! And it was the greatest time of my life. So I was on the other side of this, about to graduate, gin-drunk at 11 a.m. in the spring. I could only see down a black hole. Listening felt like a soft landing. I wonder how I will reread Heroines. This is a charged time. But instead of hiding in a cafe or on a bus now I read in my room in my apartment in the lamplight. My bed is wide enough to accommodate the books I fall asleep reading and there is a stack of them next to the bed caddying my water glasses and tissues. Everything I've read since being here, and this whole time has been SO CHARGED, everything is healing.

But the blog! Zambreno discusses the blog, both the Blog and her blog, Frances Farmer is my Sister. I have been longing to but have yet to form an essay about blogs that have powerfully, actively influenced my life. Epitome Girl, Batwinged, Agitated, and Little Arsonist. I know three of their real names. I still follow one of them. I've lost the rest. Epitome Girl and Batwinged led me to every bit of film and writing that launched my interest in anything I enjoy now. I found Dorothy Parker through Agitated. Little Arsonist I loved as a writer herself. I read her diary every day. She was a communications major at a college in Ohio wresting herself from a horrible relationship. When she moved to a social networking site I tried to be a little more outgoing and form a more tangible bond with her beyond reader. I friended a friend of hers based on mutual interests. He sent me a message and became a part of my life for half a decade. She doesn't even know this. Digression: I never tried very hard to contact or insinuate myself with these four people because, mostly, I was twelve at the time. So I know how it sounds when I say some posts of theirs I printed out and carried with me and read over and over. I reread their blogs. I have read entire blogs many times. My best friend Kara used to keep an amazing blog in the middle of this time my core best friends and I refer to as "the wonderful winter," which was the period exactly between the releases of Kill Bill vol. I and Kill Bill vol. II during which time there was so much "coming of age" it's gross, which is why the time has a codename. I don't think I would have ever wanted to write if it wasn't for blogs. Those people thought in a way that I needed to see. Heroines.

So when I found Kate's blog for the first time along with the blogs of other writers, right at the exact same time as the gin-drunk Bell Jar thing, I was overjoyed. The discovery has its own specific time because I remember I was done with a paper early but Gretchen was frantically trying to finish hers. Wayfaring googlers, internet, world, I can't wait for you to meet Gretchen's writing. She is my heroine. She writes about war. I was trying to not rub in how I was finished and trying to help but not help too much that I irritated her, so I mostly scrolled through Frances Farmer is my Sister and was so sucked in I stayed up after Gretchen went to sleep, which if memory serves was after the papers were handed in.

To hereafter purge my me of this review I point out that my name occurs on page 279 of Heroines and not a soul has engaged in conversation with me in the past few days and not learned this fact and the fact that never has a gesture made me feel this good because I love Kate Zambreno's writing, what she has to say and how she says it. THIS IS MY ULTIMATE FANGIRL MOMENT.

Back to Heroines, seriously:

My favorite parts were Zambreno's reported past because they belong with the retelling of stories of Zelda's dancing and Vivien(ne)'s anticipation of Yoko. Mythologizing is a tender activity (please see above re: the wonderful winter). I think, me again, I will never not need and feel ravenous for and love somebody with such mighty talent and vision discussing a blew-it. Every time disasters are acknowledged, the curtain goes up and I sing rose tints my world. Ha, I lied to you! Here I am again! And that sounds awful. I mean, so much is learning the hard way surrounded by people who want to pretend that never happened to them, or maybe they never went out on a limb and went for anything they wanted so never messed up. I have no use for them.

How to live in books, the effect of living incubated in other words and those words' repercussions, books that become moments and how that messes with time and causality. "I am always driven out, to tramp the streets - this way and that until I get such a horror of the streets that the streets only understand." The juxtaposition of the solitary, isolated, inert thing that puts you through it, then you get up and tramp the streets while still inside of it.

It is bracing to me to read this (here I am, I don't think I'm going anywhere) and feel the ripple of what Heroines affects and addresses. I love Zambreno calling them her "seance." I've lately acquired a big fear of anybody not attendant to ghosts. (It means something so specific to me now) I wonder how I will read that when my life is very different.

I read Heroines fast and the first thing, a week on, to come to me just thinking of it is the cumulative affect, its quality of one breath, like every statement was of the same even necessity.
Viv too was drained, and afterwards, she had nothing to show for it. No Name. No Nobel Prize. Aren't vampires the ones who become immortal?
The first thing, as I look again, I realize I let slip is the marriage. Then I reread it and I feel more like I understand the state of marriage than from reading accounts that are not contemporary or take for granted that it's just another kind of relationship, and that for artists it's something even more different, still.

Heroines is necessary because: a professor to me in college: "I don't believe that women have it as you describe, and if I'm going to let you write about this, you will need to come to me with evidence first."
Bhanu Kapil, 6:52 AM 10/29/12, at Frances Farmer is My Sister

QUOI? "Portrait of artist at limited stage of life"????????!!!!! Maybe I am not getting it, because -- right now -- your book has this brightness and freight -- it feels like permission. The permission to write the first draft or the final draft or some version of -- what will be; in a non-Derridian substrate. I am reading Derrida; my mother is reading Derrida (in a turn of events.) I love your book -- I keep reading around in it, like a truffle pig. On every page, I can't believe someone wrote this and that it came in the mail. The closest I can get is that it feels like a crime has been committed -- a really cool one, like a heist. It feels very important that the last word of the whole book, if I am not mistaken, on the biography page, is "Genet." Anyway, just a public note of congratulation and admiration for your beautiful book. Also, do you feel guilty? Do you have the feeling that you have committed a crime? Has anyone suggested that you have? I think the review process and your response to it is part of this book -- it is a flow. Stemming. To clarify, though I have the feeling of someone doing something (visibly) that is not usually -- done -- [you, your book] -- I am, at the same time, hugely comforted by the book; so that, if it is a crime, then it is the very best kind, where the riches are distributed at the end.
Bhanu has it completely right. On every page, I can't believe someone wrote this and that it came in the mail. The closest I can get is that it feels like a crime has been committed -- a really cool one, like a heist....I am, at the same time, hugely comforted by the book; so that, if it is a crime, then it is the very best kind, where the riches are distributed at the end.

All over the book there's a cool even bobbing of relief and anger, which is weird not because the book is weird but weird because that is the way it is: look at this ravaged legacy, look at this tangle of thorns, but we have so much that you don't have. We have so much, the ones who want.

Heroines by Kate Zambreno is available tomorrow morning from Semiotext(e)
ISBN: 9781584351146
Binding: Softcover
Price: $17.95

Saturday, October 20, 2012

I'd like to be a gallery.


Instead of the post of total despair I have been drafting, I want to remind myself that Say you're a fiction is for sale now from Dancing Girl Press and I am so proud of this small book. I don't always have such a positive relationship with a labor, but this came from a place of love and longing for sympathy.

To which end I have to mention the Earth-shattering force for good that was Kate Zambreno's Heroines as it's inhabited my life since Thursday. In an overture to talking about how much I loved its face off:




Text from the picture under the Bell Jar poster is from David Bowie's "Andy Warhol." Like to take a cement fix / be a standing cinema. I have several of these little posters I made in school and it would be more apt if the one hanging there - I'm still looking for a space for it - was the one with the Leonard Cohen lyrics. And who are you she sternly spoke / to the one beneath the smoke / why, I'm fire, he replied / and I love your solitude, I love your pride.