Before mercury, my blood used to fill thermometers.

Monday, December 30, 2013

To big, to small.

Decca Mitford

My old walk took me over the pedestrian-friendly bridge and across Front Street in Harrisburg — past the statue of the man reading the Patriot and Evening News and the Art Association building for one job, past my favorite building ("the Sunset," the use of which I have yet to determine) and Little Amps for another. For all the difficulty I experienced then, I have nothing but intrusively positive memories kicking up distracting splashes of nostalgia about the morning walks. I missed that this year.

I am grateful this year for all of Marlo Meekin's Vines.

I am grateful this year for all the Ottessa Moshfegh stories the Paris Review published.

I can't walk to work anymore, and I am thinking I may need to learn how to drive. I am not (I assert) a fan of defining myself by negatives, although the fact that I can't eat dairy or drink has inured me to this as of late — still, not driving is one of those things, like wearing bright patterns or pants, that I dread the reaction from people who know me to such an extent that I don't consider it to be within the realm of possibility. The roads around work, route taken notwithstanding, are too suburban-industrial even to bike, but my route has one redeeming charm: a small sign, dangerously difficult to read from a car, that says "no job to big or to small." I look at it every day but have never tried to figure out that is all about. It overwhelms me.

I am grateful this year for the times Lena Dunham and Maria Bamford favorited my tweets.

I am grateful this year for Jessica Mitford's investigative journalism.

I couldn't find Hons & Rebels anywhere on the west coast. When I went to McNally Jackson one afternoon, I asked a clerk upstairs if they had a copy, and was referred to the memoirs downstairs. I turned down the staircase and was met at the bottom by a clerk, holding Hons & Rebels up, asking, "Is this yours?" — it was very romantic and called for strings.

What I'm anticipating in the coming year:

  • Writing about the symphony
  • Reading with the Almost Uptown Poetry Cartel in March
  • Multiple trips to New York and Olympia/Portland
  • Ordering fewer books online, waiting until they appear in the Scholar (a sound financial measure but, we'll see)
  • Continuing to enjoy my work — in April I will have been making all my money from writing/editing for one year
The owner of the Scholar became the Mayor of Harrisburg this year. Once, I had a private audience with him and we discussed a mutual enthusiasm for small presses and the area business journal.

I am so grateful this year for the business journal and the internship they gave me.

I am so grateful this year for the newspaper for hiring me after I spent the last of my unemployment on room service at the Algonquin.

I am so grateful for Dancing Girl, Unthinkable Creatures, and Birds of Lace and for all the writers whose work mine was published alongside by these ravishing presses.

I am so grateful to live in the time of Guillotine and Dorothy and Emily Books and such a font of writers whose work makes me believe this is the best time for writing — if even just for me as a reader. I think back to middle school and I was a miserable reader. I think I broke the spine of the Girl with Green Hair because there was just nothing else.

All this and Scarling. is making music again. And my boyfriend bought me this wonderful squid!

Monday, December 23, 2013

It's called "In the Hall of the Mountain King."

1. Copies of Come as Your Madness are in my possession! I still recommend you support small presses and order copies from Birds of Lace, though. And if you intend to get Come as Your Madness as a gift for a parent, please consider omitting some of the racier passages and replacing them with strange/funny ones, this-is-what-happens-when-you-find-a-stranger-in-the-Alps style.

If you are still at a loss for what books are great and worth purchasing for others for any reason at all, I told Gina Abelkop what I loved this year.

2. My sister went to live in Norway for a few months, and I asked her if she would not mind — since I accumulated some Portland-specific items for her on the trip to the northwest — bringing me back something one could only get in Norway.

3. Taylor Mali visited Harrisburg — more than I love a lot of things, I love "The The Impotence of Proofreading" — the same weekend as my best friend, and she got to see me feebly judge a slam poetry competition that preceded his performance. To its last, 2013 is surprising.

4. The Almost Uptown Poetry Cartel invited me to be a featured reader! On March 6, unless there are surprises.

5. My gnawing suspicion that I have not done anything for the past six months, which has been a plague on my mood, is only feebly allayed by constant checking of my Submittable account — not to see if anything has a response as much as to see that I am, indeed, submitting work to places. This fuels my suspicion that my object permanence skills could be outshone by a toddler.

Friday, December 13, 2013


I joined Instagram. And Vine:

None of those glorious people are me. Not even the smallest Poe.

Monday, December 9, 2013

"I could make Hitler laugh to death"

Thank you, Dinosaur Pty Ltd.

If I had it my way, all of television would be some shade of Danger 5. A team of international spies in a hyper-exotic vision of the sixties band together under the command of a Colonel with the head of an eagle to kill Adolf Hitler. It's Australian, it's joyful, and it is populated by gracious, lovely stars, two of which joined me in celebrating Danger 5  and its forthcoming second season — at PennLive!

Danger 5 also has the distinction of being easier to guide new viewers to than, say, anything. The pilot is on YouTube and the first season is on Hulu (the free Hulu, at that). Anyone in my life who might want to get me a gift this season should instead acquaint themselves with the show so we can talk about it over Grape Escapes.

Friday, December 6, 2013


Lately, my preferred use of lists is to pressurize: things to do, books I want. I do this for the reason Umberto Eco surmises people list, which is to make infinity comprehensible.
And how, as a human being, does one face infinity? How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums and through encyclopedias and dictionaries. There is an allure to enumerating how many women Don Giovanni slept with: It was 2,063, at least according to Mozart's librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte. (Der Spiegel, 2009)
When I was younger I loved to list my favorite books/films/albums because I could not believe there were any that I loved so much and wanted to display them like trophies, especially since, in the wee small hours of the internet, finding these things was hard won. I was lucky, in a rural village, pre-internet, to even become aware of David Lynch, and my whole purpose in early blogging endeavors was to shout that relief from the rooftops.

Now I hope I will not stop encountering things worth loving. I'm so grateful that every last one keeps swimming my way or that I collide with. This year, I continued enjoying books and films, but music has been harder and harder for me to love every year, I've been feeling. This year really reversed the trend, after Fiona Apple's Idler Wheel. That is the minute part of what I want to impart about this year: The Blue Jasmine soundtrack — especially "Blues (My Naughty Sweetie Gives to Me)" and "A Good Man is Hard to Find" — the On the Road soundtrack, Jean Ferrat's "Ma Mome," Marie Laforêt's "La Moisson," Maurice Chevalier's "Sweepin' the Clouds Away," miscellaneous Delerue and Pink Martini, the Real Jazz and Symphony stations on XM Radio, the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra's "Rite of Spring," the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and the Chorale La Chateau's "Abyssinian Mass," and Jacques Dutronc's "L'idole" most of all.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Come as Your Madness.

Come as Your Madness, my little book of first jobs, funerals, art, and love, has been unleashed by Birds of Lace! I could not be prouder or more pleased with that look: those ornate details, that rosy complexion.

Excerpts can be found all over the place:
I've stated it, but if anything bears repeating: every last one of the Birds of Lace 12/13 titles are thunderous, and in a year marked by achievements (mostly surprising, almost all of the harrowing, just-dodged-a-cliff variety), this event is the dearest to me. I love what Gina and the writers whose work she put out this year — Andrea Quinlan, Samantha Cohen, Carina Finn, Megan Milks, everybody — are doing. Celebrating that and participating in that is of wild importance to me, and its been crushing the way much of 2013 laid me too unwell to do that work to the level I expect from myself. With Come as Your Madness out in the world, a text I have so much affection for, I'm excited to get back to work.

Wayfaring Googler: should you be angling to purchase Come as Your Madness from Birds of Lace, do not keep it on a shelf all alone, it has siblings — Say you're a fiction, a collection of poems from Dancing Girl Press, and the Black Telephone, an essay from Unthinkable Creatures.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Everyone else is abroad, or falling in love.

"My favorite thing about Coven is the men don’t talk." - Clare

Roughly, "Harvest my heart." By the end of the day, I am drained of hearing words but still want voices.

Andrea Quinlan's Mysteries of Laura is shipping now from Birds of Lace. There are only fifty — many of this year's Birds of Lace titles are gone now (it is so hard to choose a favorite but let's say, just, life is long without Samantha Cohen's Gossip).

My chapbook, Come as Your Madness, is up next and named after a party attended by Anais Nin, whose next wave of unexpurgated diaries, Mirages, showed up on a trip from which I just returned.

In case you're intrigued by Come as Your Madness (which is about first jobs, funerals, art, and love) and wondering if I write worthy chapbooks, please see:

After a weeklong trip in the northwest, I went to New York for a few hours, just long enough to see the Dante Feretti, Magritte, and John Cage exhibits at the MoMA.

By the time I went to McNally Jackson, I had all ready purchased twenty books on the trip. I only had two I was still looking for: Hons and Rebels by Jessica Mitford and White Girls by Hilton Als, which had not come out yet. The only book I picked up on impulse was In the Freud Archives by Janet Malcolm, and that was the one the bookseller wanted to talk about — its lawsuit, particularly. So all I could say was, I'm excited, I'm excited. That, as opposed to, if he'd focused on Hons or Girls, how I'd anticipated them for months, what I've been doing in the meantime, what I'd dreamed them into.

Of the twenty books I bought on the trip, I finished five before it ended: Jessica Mitford's Poison Penmanship in a hotel room in Eureka, California (most of it in a bedroom in Portland, Oregon), Maggie Nelson's Bluets in a living room in San Jose, Dorothea Lasky's AWE and Black Life in cafes across San Francisco, and Joan Didion's Slouching Towards Bethlehem at the San Francisco Airport. I left a copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude in Olympia, Washington. I did not buy the Wes Anderson Collection, Anais Nin: Mirages, or anything else that was very big. I thought I would save space in my luggage, as I accumulated twenty small books.

I am attracted to strong wills and to extricating what the will responds to: deep focus or impulse. I think impulse has an undeserved reputation. But I am ill-prepared, then, when I follow someone into their will and they are disappointed I did not bring my perspective, that I was not supervising them. I do not have the impulse to supervise, or correct, when I see someone chase an impulse.

In New York, then, I put out of my mind the concern for what I had to carry, since the visit was a fast one. At the point my bags started breaking, I deserved to run out of money, I felt, just as I set eyes on Diana Vreeland's Memos. I am far, far more of an impulsive shopper in person than online. It would make sense to write, I have more willpower online, but will-wise, I am moved by little. There is no will to have, no want to fight. Which says, really, more about my relationship with what is imagined these days versus what is in front of me. Since I've written a series of stories that are ready to be a book, I'm of the mind to see them as a book rather than a set of stories. I am beyond them in my head and ready to have them in my hands.

I am unwilling to diagnose this as a negative or positive trend, since it is definitely of my behavior to diagnose a trend, and I would rather move on, move forward, regardless.

I do agree with the claim of feeling "ambidextrous" as a reader like the American Reader says people my age are. Do you hate the term content? Do you feel it diminishes writing, filming, photographing — creating? Amina Cain says it is better than product, but does it imply that what was once called writing, filming, photographing is now amalgamating to make what is being sold? Was there ever not that tension between what could come out of creating content — real art — and its role as commodity, as daily work for profit, in the case of the newspaper or magazine? Does the argument diminish the persistent potential in people doing what they do, be it writing, filming, or photographing, everyday, for art to come out of that activity? I concede that it isn't, as a word, attractive.

I missed a performance of John Cage's 4:33 by the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra to take the trip to the northwest, then ran into the exhibit on it in New York. I am the symphony reporter at work now, but the arrangement came too late for me to alter the trip (and I would have altered it). I was not expecting an exhibit about the piece and ran into it, delighted, and what paralyzed me was a film projector that was left on and reeling a flickering white square against the wall, making that white noise. I am easily romanced by a sound like that when everyone around me is observing the tenant of the exhibit: silence. And no photography. The Met and the MoMA are discouraging photography of their exhibits — about their permanent collections, I'm not sure. But that revelation made my mood soar!

I have nothing in me that is sentimental about "remembering I was there," so I can't empathize with that impulse. Or, I can reason that it has its place. I can make myself sensitive to the needs of another: he would like a photo of this to suddenly appear; I could use this for work. It just chafes against the very present impulse of mine to be archiving, keeping — I don't horde but what I do isn't pretty. Photographs cross a line, though.

I do not like to be photographed. People are very fast to engage this: they do not wonder. They reassure me that I am attractive. They demonstrate their disappointment. They give vent to my kinking their experience of whatever — whatever trite exercise we're up to together. Look, I'm angry just talking about it. Photography happens to be the site of my taking issue with discourtesy. I would like and am flattered by others asking me if they can photograph me. Too often I am ambushed. It disappoints me and reminds me of how many trespasses against myself I let slide. And every photo reminds me of that.

I let one photo of myself to be taken on the trip, when I found a copy of Caketrain in Powell's City of Books with my story, "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles," inside.

Olympia, Washington, has a lot in common with Harrisburg. Olympia is a capital on the water. That was where the trip started and I was glad to start there, where what was different was juxtaposed by what was similar. The trees (!) have just the effect that Twin Peaks promised.

Route 1 is awe-inspiring, but still a consolation prize for how the abundance of coffee fizzles out as northern California, Oregon, and Washington disappear. Somewhere outside of Eureka, I had a brief affair by phone under the guise of my friend with an evening radio personality who goes by the name of DJ Boogie, who played me "A Good Man is Hard to Find."

Before I left, I launched a Facebook page to corral my writing at PennLive. It also serves as a place to which I can point people who want to contribute content, since I'm one of those in charge of that, and there's no dedicated place elsewhere to point. I created it then left.

Now I am three-quarters of the way through White Girls, in the middle of "Pryor Love." The end of "The Only One" froze me. I am reading back in my bed now. If I rest my head on my hand and prop myself up with my elbow in order to read, I can fall asleep within three pages. I have very bad insomnia and have lately figured out some tricks about placing pressure on certain parts of my head. The way Hilton Als writes essays: I admire in his writing the same qualities I admire in Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories. Neither of them write like me with the world swirling around me but like the world swirling around and I happen to be in it. I do not need to state why I should find this enviable.

(Title comes from here: "The crux of the matter is my attitude toward life — hinging on my science course...")

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Be a standing cinema.

At work today, I made my directorial debut in this short, lo-fi horror epic starring Julia Hatmaker.

This is one of my favorite things I've ever done (the fact that this is my first time filming something can be easily gleaned from the video's quality). Although my coworkers jumped at the chance to be creepers and frolickers, the Blair Witch Project cameo was almost impossible to cast.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Since I graduated in 2010, I've been feeling out projects, and one that's emerged is a series of short stories on the theme of trapping/keeping/kidnapping. I've had the extreme pleasure of seeing a few of these get out into the world:

Those and others have finally grown up into a real manuscript, the product of years of work and care and patience. Fortunately for me, the past three years have been rollicking. Finding my footing in the professional world may have been distracting — it would have been nice to have found a harmless, quiet job, but I would not trade anything for what's landed me at PennLive/The Patriot — but that kind of psychic space enabled me to accomplish much without the benefit of other readers. By the time I got to attend to drafts, it was usually months on from conceiving of the story, by which time I had some objectivity and could really do something for it. But it's at the point now where it needed more, and Kristen Stone came to my aid.

I solicited her services as an editor, and she not only turned the manuscript around to me on a tight deadline, she detected tonal weaknesses and made the demands of a reader that, no matter how long I stayed away from the project, I never would have observed or had myself. I am a fair reader of my own work, but I could not have hoped to see this ms. ready to submit to presses without her.

This to say, Kristen Stone is a fabulous editor: her rates are a steal for the thoroughness and quality of her observations and the demands of her eye. I must add, also, what a cloud I'm on because she is among my favorite living people writing, who I am so privileged to have edit and publish my essay, the Black Telephone, on Unthinkable Creatures, and she enjoyed reading the collection. I hope other people enjoy reading it, and I am so excited to have had her help in making that possible!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A series of mouths.

"The issue of racial loyalty is a tricky one, and largely specious if you knew the colored people we knew. Vis-à-vis that whole endlessly fascinating and tiresome race subject, SL and I lived as the actor Morgan Freeman said he lived: He didn’t play black, he was black. And it broke SL’s heart when I assumed fraternity with other black writers because, for the most part, they could care less what I felt. What interested them was how much of the black pie would I get. Or take away from them. Literature was a market. For instance: A black gay woman I was friends with at the weekly newspaper where SL and I met had a brother who was dying of AIDS. In fact, they had the same name. I used to go to one hospital to cut her brother’s hair, and then to my friend’s hospital, so he could kiss me good night. Both those young men died, and it was some months later, to win her white straight male boss’s approval, that that black gay woman took me out to lunch to ask if I would give my health insurance up—someone else needed it. SL liked to die as he watched me try to fill that dry fallacy of brotherhood with the Botox of faith. He turned his face away as those people behaved badly toward me because they could: They saw that I believed in them because I felt I should."
From White Girls by Hilton Als, excerpted at Guernica (photo of Dorothy Dandridge).

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The ruin of many a girl: Julia Hatmaker and I watch American Horror Story.

Last week, Julia Hatmaker and I watched the premiere of American Horror Story: Coven together. For the sake of context: Julia enjoyed the first season, which I hated virulently. She saw and did not like the second season, which I have not seen.

This is the conversation borne of the footage that precedes the opening credits:

Kari: The editing contributes to my overall inability to abide AHS. The story jumps into a preface, set in the late 1800s, complete with iris wipes and ragtime piano. No matter what era in which a scene is set, AHS finds a way to fight the set design and the actors' potential with noise and movement. Everything on the screen is in conflict right away. None of the parts that make up a filmed scene harmonize in any way. If the acting was dismal and the sets lackluster as in B- or Z-movies, then the quick cuts, the whiplash-inducing pace, and failure to let anything shine could be something the audience would understand and enjoy being complicit in. As it stands, this really slights the audience, the beautiful quality of the production, AND the actors, among whom this season — in this first scene — is Kathy Bates. This is no good!

Julia: When it comes to the editing, I completely agree. The iris wipes gave the opening a cartoony and comedic feel, while the topic matter was anything but funny. The first minutes of any show or movie are supposed to set the tone and that's a rule that AHS flat out ignored. That, or Ryan Murphy is confused and thinks he's writing a comedy.

Kari: Bates plays IRL monster Delphine LaLaurie, who, in a Bathoryesque measure to keep up Confederate-flavored appearances, treats her face with the blood of black men. LaLaurie, in life, did torture her slaves. The character refers to the man she drains, who has been seduced by her daughter, a "beast," and turns him into a minotaur as she exclaims, "Now I have one of my very own." It is one thing to stoke an open wound like racially-motivated violence. It is another to use it as set-dressing. This all prefaces the opening credits and occupies less than ten minutes of the hour-long premier, but it typifies what I do not like about AHS (that is only driven home later; we'll get to that). While I won't excuse racist content, I am willing to concede that the show does effectively probe the concept of "horror."

Kari (cont.): My profound disappointment in the show when it aired for the first time in 2011 came from its failure to live up to my expectations, the foundations of which were for suspense, for insecurity about my own safety, for a strong indictment of the shadows people hide in today and the relationship that behavior has to things we can look back on and see were opportunities for evil to appear throughout history. Instead of feeling like I was watching Psycho or Rosemary's Baby, two horror canon entries referenced heavily in season one, I felt like I was watching people get tortured in Abu Ghraib. I do not look at that forced glance into the abyss as an achievement because the ability to observe an act of violence, mediated by technology, is itself a horrible contemporary phenomenon. The failure of AHS to understand that the way horrible things that used to be kept hidden now can make a vast audience accomplice to it is a pandemic contemporary evil is made so plain by the end of the episode; I had little confidence in it to begin with, and by the end of this episode, I lost all hope that the minds behind AHS know enough to make anything genuinely challenging or even treat with excitement and respect what good the show has going for it.

Julia: I loved the first season. To me it was a compelling narrative, I wanted to tune in every week to find out what happened next. I was attached to the characters – although granted much of that is due to the charisma of the actors and my overactive imagination, not the script. I was invested in the twisted and doomed romance between Violet (Taissa Farmiga) and Tate (Evan Peters). That being said, I was psyched when I saw Farmiga and Peters were back. More on that later, I'm sure.

Kari: The other major factor of this show's crisis being that it doesn't do anything with the talent it has. Nowhere else on cable TV can you see characters brought to life by the likes of Jamie Brewer and Gabourey Sidibe — much less both of them alongside Angela Basset, Bates, Patti LuPone, and AHS superstar Jessica Lange. I am happy to see Frances Conroy paying tribute to Grace Coddington as the character Myrtle Snow (billed in the main cast, so I hope we see way more of her than the cameo she makes here). It was the only aspect of the premier that purely delighted me, and only for sentimental reasons. This entire episode is lost on someone unaware of how awesome Grace Coddington is.

Julia: The script of AHS is never the show's strongest points, but it gives a lot for actors to play with. As an actress (albeit not a famous one by any stretch of the matter) I get the appeal of having that kind of creative freedom. You can see Jessica Lange really shines in that kind of environment. That's why I tune in to AHS, to marvel at the actors who manage to make me care, even if the material isn't the best.

Kari: Before going at length into the story of the episode, I want to make note of the opening sequence: same music, new images. I was really spellbound (ugh, Kari) by the teasers for this season featuring witch-trappings, solemnity, the seductive aspects of uniformity (this is funny considering all the mutant parallels later and a lot sexier than AHS's previous incorporation of S&M iconography — all those small girls in heels versus the looming Bates, Bassett, and Lange) and a rendition of "House of the Rising Sun" I would listen to on its own. I was disappointed not to see those images in the opening credits. Instead there were a different variety of figures in pointy hats. It really upset me, and it took me a while to sort out why I felt a lot of outrage and dread — besides the fact that, you know, Klansmen. I am a horror fan. Why do I experience a different set of feelings when confronted by something as horrible as the Klan? Because one of the things about horror that intrigues me as a subject is the way it pervades, its reasonlessness, its relationship to human nature. I do not believe you can stop it: part of life is engaging with the ongoing negotiation of it. But racially and sexually motivated violence comes from a stupid, petty, infuriating place inside people and inflames a stupid, petty social and cultural sore. The results of it are horrible. But the sources are impossible to ignore.

Julia: I'm with you on the Klan comments. The Klan doesn't terrify me, it disgusts me and it depresses me. Seeing a Klan member on the screen is almost a sure way to get me to turn something off and the use of them in the opening sequence took me out of the story completely. Also, it didn't make a whole lot of sense. New Orleans in particular wasn't a KKK hub. It had its own racist society, the Knights of the White Camellia, which was filled with prominent individuals in society. The White Camellia group, according to the Encyclopedia of Louisiana, didn't wear robes – they used their actual faces to terrify their victim. You can imagine the horror of finding out your tormentor was actually a state supreme court justice (because founder Alciblades DeBlanc was). That to me is a much more powerful storytelling tactic – that evil doesn't hide its face – than using the KKK image. It also plays into the AHS story, which seems to center around young witches as they struggle with their powers and the desire of Supreme Witch Fiona (Jessica Lange) to not hide her powers anymore.


The episode ends with one character raping another to death. I'm hesitant to say something on this show can be enjoyed for the wrong reasons because I think it would chafe at the notion of being enjoyed for the right ones — a contrarian ethos dictates, happily, I think, the whole production — but I did enjoy the transparent references so many moments made to iconic sci fi. Julia counted two whoppers: Taissa Farmiga's Zoe discovering her capacity to witch-out in the exact same way Rogue discovers she's a mutant in the X-Men movie, and Sarah Paulson's Cordelia and Jessica Lange's Fiona precise imitation of Dr. Xavier and Magneto (respectively) when they discuss the fate of their charges at Miss Robichaux's Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies — which is such a shameless rip-off of Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters that it makes me pine for the shameless rip-offs of seasons past. At least those moments lifted straight from media I enjoyed (I like good horror); I am not a fan enough of X-Men to be happy to see it where I'm not expecting it.

I can't watch the show every week — nothing about it excites me, but I was grateful and happy to engage with Julia, a very good friend and fabulous coworker, on something so singularly bizarre.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


Because of school, fall is when I establish or dismantle routines. I never had a summer job, so that's when I get into my idling ruts. Now I feel like I'm waking up.

Days have been, in effect, one long yawn after a fitful sleep. Which — no complaints. Hung up on the New York Review Books' use of a Francesca Woodman cyanotype as the cover of William Gass' On Being Blue. TO SAY NOTHING OF THE HONOR that is being name-checked in the glorious Megan Milks' article in the glorious Lambda Literary on the glorious Kristen Stone's perfect Unthinkable Creatures!
From Scratch the Bone: “Yes, I really am this vulnerable.” Tenderly written and tenderly housed, these chapbooks beat hard and bright. Theirs is a beautiful hurt.
I'm traveling to the northwest in a few weeks and will slither around Seattle and Portland and find and read Jessica Mitford's journalism and see an old friend, who I miss. Before that, I'm going to conserve my energy and lie in bed under my Francesca Woodman poster (the same image as the book cover).

And listen to this (I encounter a lot of things and think, I could have used that when I was younger, and this, I think, I wish I could have used it just when I was younger, but I need it now):

Bleecker Street by Simon & Garfunkel on Grooveshark

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Style guide.

Nothing necessitates a trigger warning like the phrase "fall fashion."

Style icon: Fran Lebowitz

I don't wish away my own style (noncommittal Halloween costume-style version of 1950s office girl); I only wish I could own, as effortlessly, blazers and sweaters and wisdom.

It's Nice That interviewed Dian Hansen, Taschen's Sexy Books Editor, and I'm still waiting for the issue to arrive but am freaking out all the more for that. When I consider "style" I do not consider clothes as much as, for instance, here is someone who has forged her own specific place, borne of her passions, and this is what I think about emulating when the autumn winds blow and I want to shed my grim, humid summer encasement.

Particularly as October 19th approaches — everyone, I'm certain, has a date they wish was a solid object they could burn/throw down flights of stairs/feed to a carnivorous fish. While, yes, my life is better because the events of last fall compelled me to change directions, nothing is worth, you know, scars. Persistent, intrusive pain and disruption of how one accomplishes normal, necessary things. My copy of Heroines came, I think, that day or the previous day. I think I had read it all by then, somehow.

Books that held my hand through the sad, blank months
Heroines by Kate Zambreno
Swimming Studies by Leanne Shapton
Repeated attempts to read Pride and Prejudice, hasn't yielded anything but kept me occupied
My Life is a Movie by Carina Finn
Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson
Every last Dorothy, a Publishing Project title
Beyond This Point Are Monsters by Roxanne Carter
Speedboat by Renata Adler
Rookie Yearbook One

Speaking of life-changing:

Monday, September 16, 2013

I'm not watching you; I'm watching science: Masters of Sex.

I had no idea Masters of Sex was coming. I've plateaued, obviously.

Anything about the history of psychology is guaranteed to get my attention and reserves of sentimental attachment comparable to my ongoing, undiminished thing for Sailor Moon. I love it, I've loved it forever. And I love the potential for longform storytelling to be found in scripted television dramas, so the revelation that a show about Masters and Johnson exists means, for me, a great deal of caring a great deal about lots of small details.

Re: the pilot, during which another of my critical biases is unmasked —

Dr. William Masters is an obstetrician who has achieved in his field but is surreptitiously collecting data about sex with the help of a prostitute whose usual mode is incredulous. How I loathe characters who go "really?" at other characters and nothing else. Here the viewer is, in 1953, in St. Louis' Washington University, surrounded by beautiful midcentury decor, and after a few scenes of Masters, ostensibly the protagonist, doing virtually nothing save some very clinical peeping, the prostitute really reacts up a storm of sass to his questions. About his questions, which the prostitute knew were coming, Masters acts barely invested. He spends the rest of the pilot huffing around Washington University, being faintly a prick — he's always faint, that is; Michael Sheen is not much of a presence here — or provoking a disproportionate response from those around him. The scene with the prostitute bothered me the most, though. She wrung a scene's worth of surprise that he did not know about fake orgasms from his barely extant reaction to her mentioning them. She chews out an explanation, endlessly surprised that he's unfamiliar with the practice, but I don't buy that exchange. She's right, it's a fact, the authenticity of orgasms, whatever. If a married guy of means in the 1950s didn't know that, I would not beat him up over it. If this strikes the reader as nitpicky, this is the first scene of virtually any substance.

Masters shames his dowdy secretary out of her job and, I think, calls her pork chop. The pilot of Masters of Sex retroactively impressed upon me so many nuances of Don Draper's complexity in Mad Men's pilot — Draper at least demonstrated the extent to which he was deep into his worlds. Masters hates everything.

I'm ninety-nine percent sure Masters' wife calls him "daddy."

Meanwhile, Lizzy Caplan! Lizzy Caplan! As Virginia Johnson! A quarter of the episode passes before we get to much of anything from her! The audience follows Masters to her, and I call inextricable nonsense on that: Johnson is the one new to Washington University, new to the job, and too new to her role to believably be right there arguing alongside Masters about their project's validity in the very first episode. The audience should have followed her in — her circumstance is the more intriguing of the two —and it would have been character evolution well-spent to get to know her from recognizing who she is in that context, what working in research means to her, and THEN I would believe that passion. As it is, it's very hollow. Everything Masters and Johnson do is very hollow.

Johnson's erratic character development in this pilot concerns me. If Johnson used to be a singer, if she's newly divorced, what about her inner world is so illumined by SCIENCE? There are many moments in this pilot where characters go, "SCIENCE!" She's also, compared to Masters, so secure in her approach to sexual intimacy that I am on high alert for a Manic Pixie situation. The pilot wastes no time in establishing that there's a tryst ahead for Masters and Johnson. I know this is based on real facts (and since I have not read about their individual lives, I'm not familiar with those facts are offhand), but I hope at once that doesn't constrict the story from being told in an interesting way and also fear impoverished imaginations compelling Johnson into a "don't be so glum, Masters — live life to the fullest! That's the only stake I have in this narrative!" role.

The thing about which the viewer comes away knowing the most is Masters' and Johnson's research. Not about the individual protagonists, not about the world they live in, and I can't tell you how much I want to reside, via television, in a research university in the 1950s. And nothing revealed in the pilot is news to contemporary viewers! The sex research should be the MacGuffin. As a viewer, I'd like to know the politics behind why Masters risks discrediting himself by pursuing this line of work (I mean, I get why, it's the 50s, but I want to see why the 50s were the 50s, you see). I'd like to know about how Johnson comes by her means (she's wearing a hell of a dress at one point) as a single mother in 1956 (year of the Elvis swivel). I assume I have the season to get to the bottom of their research methods, but not if I don't care about the characters.

The whole metaphorical exchange between Masters and Johnson about the way salt tastes, also, is pretty elementary. 30 Rock made a "what if the color blue that I see is different from the color blue that you see" joke. A lot of the writing disappointed me, as it could have cultivated character all on its own, but as it was, the dialogue locked the characters into predictable, atonal volleys of "what? Oh!" exchanges. No good!

I like the story, but not in a way I expect anyone else to like the story, and it isn't a story I can endorse with confidence unless the person with whom I'm speaking is as excited as I am by the evolution of the study of psychology and wants to watch television about it. The objectivity with which the story is told is distracting even to me, liking it. The focus is very macro when the viewer should be getting lowered into this world. A world this rich does not benefit from a clinical, removed glare. There is a way that this could work, though! It can work if the show goes from broad and objective to tight and subjective as Masters gets less how he is. Less detached. That could be interesting, but might not be worth however long it takes.

And, on a special note: one of the reasons period pieces are attractive to me — and they are, but with specific and rigid caveat that the period be midcentury, 1900-1970 — is because I like older music. The use of older music in this pilot hooked me — deceptively! After an episode full of excellent musical cues, it ended with a tonally inappropriate contemporary song. I love the Decemberists, but the Decemberists' showing up in Mad Men put me in a bad mood. It has nothing to do with being persnickety about period accuracy and everything to do with the fact that I can't appreciate why someone with the opportunity to use a piece of midcentury popular music would forego that chance because I love midcentury popular music.

I'd like to hear more of that. I'd like to see more character development, particularly from Johnson because Masters has not won me over in the least. And I'd like to even try and hope enough that I'll keep watching. Today's lesson being that, even without merit, I can be won by postwar trappings. Still, I would have preferred merit!

Friday, August 23, 2013

The degradation would be mine.

The reissued Alfred Hayes novels from New York Review Books inspire such a tender love.

"Sometimes, hating the violent dispossession of myself which love brought on, I would wish to be elsewhere..."

"She had expected, being beautiful, the rewards of being beautiful; at least some of them; one wasn't beautiful for nothing in a world which insisted that the most important thing for a girl to be was beautiful."

"The only thing we haven't lost, I thought, is the ability to suffer. We're fine at suffering. But it's such a noiseless suffering. We never disturb the neighbors with it. We collapse, but we collapse in the most disciplined way. That's us. That's certainly us. The disciplined collapsers."

"My world acquired a tendency to crumble as easily as a soda cracker. I found myself horribly susceptible to small animals, ribbons in the hair of little girls, songs played late at night over lonely radios. It became particularly dangerous for me to go near movies in which crippled girls were healed by the unselfish love of impoverished bellhops. I had become excessively tender to all the more obvious evidences of the frailness of existence; I was capable of dissolving at the least kind word, and self-pity, in inexhaustible doses, lay close to my outraged surface. I moved painfully, an ambulatory case, mysteriously injured."

"Double beds, that was the first thing I was going to legislate for when I was President. Was I going to be President? Of course; and she was going to be, if she moved over, Congress."

"The whole point is that nothing can save us but a good fall. It's staying up there on the wire, balancing ourselves with that trivial parasol and being so pleased with terrifying an audience, that's finishing us. Don't you agree? A great fall, that's what we need."

"The town was necessary for her. It was the place she would have, finally, chosen. It wasn't that she thought it glamorous or anything. That had worn off with the first timid step she had taken into a casting office. Nor even that inevitably someday the erratic and unpredictable spotlight which illuminated the chosen would wheel and illuminate her. She'd now (it was different a year ago, a year ago she'd been sick, a little mad, she'd tell me about it, someday, when we knew each other better) come to acknowledge that it was quite possible that she would never have the big career or enjoy the immense fame that luck or shrewdness or accidental beauty made possible here. That her face, after all, wouldn't be, despite all her ambitions, the face that the world would see so greatly magnified, there, in the darkened theatres. "Yes," she said, passionately, with a sincerity that at last silenced me, "it may be rotten," meaning the town, and the life in it, "but I like it and I wouldn't have it any other way; it seems right to me that it should be rotten the way it is." And it struck me that, yes, why not? Perhaps for what one wanted it was right that the town should be hard and cruel and cheap and bitchy and stupid: all the other words, too. Yes, I thought: this is perhaps exactly as it should be, and from that odd angle, hers, I could see why she might, after all, like it, and think of it even as something perfectly true to its own rhinestone self."

"Morning seemed immeasurably far."

I've been getting along for long before you came into the play.

Being upset over rejection is validity itself. I have a cool approach to it, having totally lost days being raw about rejection. But as a gesture, this latest rejection was special. In a positive way, that is, which is circumstantial. On a different day this would have pulverized.

Because what does obliterate me without fail is a non-response or having to chase for a "no." When I know an option is closed to me, I can glide away for others. But sitting around, waiting for rejection only to find that the other party did not think of me enough to tell me "no" — that only reinforces my lack of control.

That said, I've been angry with myself. I submitted my first query to the Paris Review. I love the Paris Review, I hold the editors in high esteem, and if I want to someday have work appear there, I need to submit work to it. This year's been intense, and I stressed out so much about unleashing it to the postal service that I didn't include a SASE in order to receive my rejection — which, let us be real, I anticipated. The fact that I'd denied myself the opportunity to get rejected and have the evidence that I had tried for something I'd endeavored to do for years — my patience with myself was already up at the time.

But I received a rejection from The Paris Review via email! And, even though the remark begs editorializing with the likes of "sincerely," "really," — that was a very kind, considerate thing, uneditorialized. Reading submissions takes a long time, I didn't want to submit the work elsewhere until I knew I wouldn't be putting any editor at a disadvantage — and now I can move on. Which is action, which is empowering, which is what I need. And as a reminder that I had made that query in the first place — I feel like I haven't done anything in half a year, and the reminder that I have taken steps towards what I want is reassuring.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Incredibly harsh and really dehumanizing.

Post title courtesy of Piper Kerman's NPR interview and THE superior book title.

My wireless internet in my home is making a death rattle. My behavior without an internet connection is based on the notion that there is something to wait for, that the ghost of the internet might haunt my devices, and so I lie in bed and have burned through the entire Sailor Moon manga series like this (US first run from Mixx Comix, every volume falling apart). My time management's coming around as a result. I didn't have the internet in college, either, and it made all the difference in my work.

I've therefore been reviewing my adult, working life's days of peak productivity. I think it was when I was at the phone company and I could actually write all day, listen to audiobooks, and still accomplish the pale conceit of programming phone and internet (the irony, it has not escaped).

The internet is back now, but I am apprehensive and happy, for the moment, to be broken of my evolving addiction to Hulu Plus' Criterion trove. With cups of rose tea, I've been ignoring pressing responsibilities and lazing, enjoying Catherine Breillat's late-aughts oeuvre (Barbe bleue! For life!). This is what I thought would be waiting for me in adulthood.

Spoiler alert.
Also, reading Boris Kachka's Hothouse, and what have I underlined:
But it was during the summers that he found his first fulfilling work, as a copy boy for the White Plains Reporter. At the now long-defunct paper near Sarosca Farm, the cocky then not only earned his first salary, thirty-five dollars a week, but also got to write the occasional obituary or wedding notice — "and this turned me on."

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

This is just to say.

The Sesame Street twitter did something magical last Friday and parodied William Carlos Williams:

Monday, July 22, 2013

Myra insists she is borrowing the girl to demonstrate her psychic abilities.

Summer insomnia presents: moods inside of which to churn and roast.


"An exclusive, have-it-all decree." Using some designated objects, one can make David Lynch a song. I think that's the least of the art-love he deserves.

2. Forever envious of this perfect title. The air conditioning unit canceled the sound, but was visually perfect company for someone who, however inadequate the volume, refused to move from bed for any reason.

3. THE LAB MAGAZINE. Where did it come from? Why wasn't it always with me? I profoundly detest to speak in questions but this is a gnawing mystery, see the rapturous "Nykhor in Bloom."

4. I still have to tell myself to cheer up sometimes.

5. I'm pretty into the majority of the Paris Reviews' "What We're Loving" installments, but here, Justin Alvarez was inside my mind:

The sweltering temperatures the East Coast is currently experiencing created the perfect environment for Monday's screening of Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte at Bryant Park's Summer Film Festival. A tale of murder, mayhem, and deceit, Hush...Hush is just what you would expect from the "psycho-biddy" genre of sixties and seventies (depending on your preference, also known as "hagsploitation," "hag horror," or, my personal favorite, "Grand Dame Guignol").

Thursday, July 18, 2013

I took her away.

Hypnosis eliminates personal context — how we recognize the shape of our lives based on the past, how we anticipate the future — and substitutes an experience delivered by a third party. My subjectivity is at stake: who am I, under hypnosis, if not someone else’s idea of me? Are my memories my own or manufactured, and how do I tell the difference? (Tom Jokinen)

Monday, July 1, 2013

Internationally known for being broke.

Liz Laribee (with Ian Kanski!) is on the digital cover of the American Prospect today!

And the story of Nona Willis Aronowitz's visit to Harrisburg is enclosed. Look at this excellent paragraph:
Like many Rust Belt cities, Harrisburg has experienced major brain drain—the mass exodus of educated young people from post-industrial cities to the coasts or the Sunbelt. On average, Pennsylvania has lost 20,000 18-to-24-year-olds a year since the 1960s. Growing up and getting out has simply been the expectation. “Well, you’re not supposed to be here. This is not the place for you,” Kari Larsen, a 26-year-old lifelong resident of Central Pennsylvania, remembers being told when she complained to adults about the area’s stagnant culture. But thanks to the crappy economy, fewer young people are leaving the scene. After decades of steady loss, the 2010 census revealed a slight increase in the number of 24 to 35-year-olds in the wider Dauphin County area compared with 2000. The reversal in Harrisburg reflects a wider trend: Millennials are 40 percent less likely to move out of their home state than young people were were in the 1980s.
Wonderful pictures (by Amanda Owens!) of the MakeSpace in its formative stages are also included, as well as the fact that the Harrisburg residents Nona spoke to are collectively more glib than those in bigger cities with more established millennial enclaves. Glibber and more self-depreciating. I did suspend this impulse for "City Living" at Today's the Day Harrisburg, but if that facet of life here did not come across loud and clear, then I just would not recognize this place.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Femme Fantômas.

Taschen had a sale, and I ordered Rose, c'est Paris on the strength of its cover. There is some more substantial precedent: I've been in love with the cover since the book's release. The words "Rose" and "Paris" are the kind that will get me to investigate something with which I'm not all ready familiar, since I assume that by invoking those words, the book and I have something in common, and it is that we are sexy and mysterious.

Beyond not being disappointed, this is one of my favorite books I own now.

B., the protagonist, moves through the worlds of Paris looking for her sister, Rose, who she finds missing, their apartment wrecked. The book runs through different dreamlike scenarios that could justify or explain Rose's vanishing and are framed by B.'s even more dreamlike day-to-day, which includes masked nudes galore, Magic-City (known for its drag balls), and an ongoing fantasy about being the femme Fantômas. According to Bettina Rheims, the whole project is very much a tribute to the influence of the Surrealists. There are many direct visual puns, but it is not vital for one to be familiar with the canon to enjoy the images. Subjectively, I would say that anything velvety in black and white, full of "confused identities, artistic phantoms, unseen manipulation, obsession, fetish, and seething desire" will yield significant enjoyment.

The movie is amazing, too. It comes with a movie! A whole, two-hour film of the story depicted in the photographs in the same, astonishing black and white. Lately I have been falling asleep as soon as I get home from work, around 6:30, and waking up at 2 in the morning. Unlike a lot of dazes, this one has sustained its pleasantness over the course of this happening seven times or so since May. Rose, c'est Paris on film is magnificent at that hour. So is Picnic at Hanging Rock, which I watched twice in a row this morning.

An aside: I can't believe it took me this long to see Picnic at Hanging Rock. The sinister, beautiful seventies film is my genre (Picnic, Black Moon, Wicker Man — the pastoral is an important element to the genre, but Rosemary's Baby as its urban equivalent is my first love).

I did not know that off-duty Fantômas works the David-Bowie-alien-in-Man-Who-Fell-to-Earth look.

Of all the images, there is one of a traffic-filled street under rows of long, dangling lights that look like rhinestone necklaces that is my favorite. And it's one of so many. I love the story floating around the images and the faces and the city and the phantoms! I hate to just go "I love, I love" about something but sometimes you need a fantasy and it is good to feel the momentary erasure of the critical impulse and just go AAAAHHHHHHHHHH!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

"What we need is to use what we have."

I've got some news!

My editors at work sent my article about Mad Men and this season's similarities to the work of Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey/Gosford Park) to the Daily Beast! I don't know if anything will come of it, but that's such a vote of confidence in my work. That made me feel wonderful. Also wonderful: PolicyMic is taking it — !

Meredith Turits recommended my short story "May Two People Breathe in a Real Room" from Hobart at Bustle's "5 Short Stories to Get Lost in This Weekend." !!! This is the greatest honor and surprise! Bustle has a dedicated "books" section, so I am ecstatic to have had this brought to my attention.

Illustration by Aamon Perry, Doodletillomega

My first contribution to Today's the Day Harrisburg is here! There will be more. Here, I quote Susan Sontag (that's what the title of this post is, too) and discuss the human role in a city's sustainability. Today's the Day is getting a design overhaul soon and I am freaking out; I can't wait to see it. So, watch that space.

I know it was just here, but my fury about Terry Castle's irresponsible anti-Plath screed in the New York Review of Books has received a lot of compassionate, thoughtful responses. I'm so glad other people took notice of what a weird act of violence it is. It also gave me the valuable chance to tell Elizabeth Winder, author of Pain, Parties, Work, that she wrote the Plath bio that YOU MUST READ, that is fun and genuinely informative, and now I'm telling you, reader, to check that out.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

I want to be unbearable.

I was ecstatic to see the New York Review of Books devoted four full pages and a tiny bit of a fifth page to a review by Terry Castle, called "the Unbearable," of two of the three Plath biographies that came out this year, Carl Rollyson's American Isis and Andrew Wilson's Mad Girl's Love Song.


And I do not mean she thinks poorly of the books. "It will come as no surprise that I'm one of those who will always be turning away from Plath," says Castle at the start of the review's final paragraph. Okay, whatever — she admits to her bias, that's fine. "I find her grisly — unbearable, in fact" — really? Why — "because, even five decades after her suicide, she and her corpse-infested verses hold on with such ghoulish tenacity. She seems never to tire of creating tragic inhuman mischief from beyond the grave."


"She seems never to tire of creating tragic inhuman mischief from beyond the grave."

That is absurd, Terry Castle. That is a fringe blog rant at best and nowhere near a valid criticism.

Wait! She does not just let this wild complaint hang there — she provides an example.
A respectful fisheries biologist — he taught at a university in Alaska — Nicholas Hughes had apparently done everything possible to distance himself geographically and psychically from his parents' cursed history. (Most of the people who worked with him knew nothing of his family story.) Yet Lady Lazarus caught up with him at last. He was said afterward to have been "lonely" much of his life and depressed by his failure to find love. His mother was by then long dead — he had never had any memory of her — yet even so I couldn't help wanting to kill her.

"I couldn't help wanting to kill her."

Oh my god! Until this point I was conventionally disappointed. I don't find the observations that make up the bulk of the review really illuminating. She sloughs through the history of Plath-as-biographical-subject, including the bias exerted by the executor of her estate, Olwyn Hughes. She cites the death of many key players in Plath's life as an advantage of Rollyson and Wilson without so much as even kind of trying to maybe acknowledge that a distinct disadvantage of there being fewer and fewer tangible connections to one's subject makes one prone to PROJECTION. Which, in the case of both books, it did. And in the case of this review, it did.

I am relentlessly disappointed by the inability of critics to judge the work, and even here — when the work being judged here is by Misters Rollyson and Wilson! — Castle is totally overwhelmed by Plath the human. She's so totally overwhelmed that she cannot even judge writing that is about her, and the review dissolves into one long blah about Plath's poetry using "Nick and the Candlestick" to segue into that grotesque WTF at the end.

In the sole concrete observation about what new access to Plath's archives has yielded, Castle picks out the most mundane fact that is, at its kernel, not exactly a bombshell (Plath had a crush on Richard Sassoon that persisted after she met and took up with Hughes — those who think she fell fully for Hughes the moment they met are mere Plath hobbyists). There are totally revelations to be found in those two books (one of which I reviewed in HTMLGIANT) and she does not touch on them or the dubiousness of some of the conclusions both biographers draw. Her chief comparison is the pace of the two books: Wilson's dwells in Plath's life before Hughes and Rollyson's rips through her life manically from start to finish.

The one interesting note that Castle makes in all the many words that she devoted to these books is about the abrupt ending to Wilson's book: "how easily the 'life before Ted' might have become the 'life without Ted.' Would such a tweak in the course of destiny have meant more years — with or without poems — for Sylvia?"

Holy shit, when people call Plath "Sylvia" — would it not make you stop if, reading an esteemed publication, you saw T.S. Eliot referred to as Tom? That really shakes a critic's credibility for me right there. And this is last on my barometer of concerns regarding this review.

I'd sooner recommend American Isis and Mad Girl's Love Song than this review, and both are inferior biographies. It's hard to pick a lesser evil between "she was a goddess too rare for this world so of course she had to die" (Rollyson, mostly) and "she's an evil hag casting spells from beyond the grave to get bulemic [sic] female undergraduates to keep her heinous poems in vogue." Castle actually makes this characterization, and unless NYRB messed up bulimic on purpose to be saboteurs, way to diminish the suffering of untold numbers of living humans with psychiatric conditions and appear unable even to Google a word you do not know.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The wrong kind of death.

This was a rough year. Good fortune only enhances that contrast. Sometimes I have flashbacks. Acquaintances tell me I sigh heavily, noticeably.

VICE's fashion spread on female writers' suicides moved me to consider what catharsis has meant to me in the past year. The absence of their work from the captions — not to qualify what's worst about the series, but that's what upset me viscerally. That was the first thing, followed by the fact that the omission was not the first thing anybody was likely to notice since that is how so many people know these authors, or it is the sole capacity in which they know them. Ugh (VICE rescinded the spread online).

Harriet quoted Ariana Reines in the LA Review of Books and I want to echo it:
...[S]he is a problem because she is a suicide, and suicides are seductive because we all want to die sometimes, and dead young women artists and dead women artists of any age are a problem because it has always been easier for this culture to love their artworks when they, the women, are not alive to interfere with our relations with them, and her precocity was and remains a problem because of its completeness and because precocity is also always resented and dismissed, and she is a problem because it has historically been too easy to praise what is dead and too difficult to nurture what lives, and she is a problem because she is a martyr and ours is a culture addicted to martyrs and martyrology and powered by competition and self-loathing, which leads to the wrong kind of death...
What I derive from the work: not only that it can be extraordinary but that it can be crushingly hard. This is personal. Knowing work like Plath's is possible, to use the big example, has been as vital to my development as the validation of the difficulty, which, I shouldn't have to say how better it would be if that had never been proven or wasn't true at all. And it is shining and enlivening to see Words Right Now spring up and this, even though it's slim and is missing one of my favorite shots:

Clarice Lispector

My ultimate feelings are wrapped up in what I have experienced as the premiere positive force in my post-undergraduate life, about how many impossibly skilled, serious writers are working now and doing things better and beautifully and how much I want to see them and want others to see them. I just devoured Carina Finn's Lemonworld. Her work is the most infuriatingly exciting. I am loving and luxuriating in Beyond This Point are Monsters, Roxanne Carter's second book, and it is magnificent to inhabit. Claire Donato's Burial is so necessary now:
Drying hair, damp from a shower, think, 'The morgue is a comfortable place.'
But the mind, the lab is not comfortable. In the work there is no denial of life.

Monday, June 17, 2013

I was afraid you were a baby.

My short story, "May Two People Breathe in a Real Room," is up at Hobart!!! It's about two girls who are kidnapped and escape, very small and very complicated.

The penultimate MakeSpace interview is up at Harrisburg Magazine! This one is with Shannon Sylte, and from her excellent brain came thus:
What I've observed is that some individuals view the community gardens in this city as invasive. In conjunction with the art scene, I have not observed much cultural diversity in the projects I'm involved in. I'm interested in finding ways to amend this. It seems as though this city is divided into a mosaic of “cultural ecosystems.” Those ecosystems could work together, but dissonance overwhelms and seems to inhibit the growth of the community. I hope that we can establish a way to coexist that everyone can view the renaissance that Harrisburg is going through as beneficial.
Shannon joined the MakeSpace while the interview series was in progress and surprised me with some extraordinarily thoughtful answers to my feeble, exhausted questions.

I wrote about bad charities and unpaid internships at work today. Their respective relevance to my own life is extreme. As extreme as Carina Finn's Lemonworld, which I ripped open and inhaled after I got home? Not that extreme. I have these expectations for Bret Easton Ellis' the Canyons that it cannot possibly live up to but Lemonworld actually filled all that lack. I'm coming to understand I only have one set of equal-opportunity desires that can, at any moment, be fulfilled by a book, even if I think it's a movie I want. Carina's brattiness is the most refreshing thing in words. YOU CAN GET IT.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Secret worlds in Frances Ha.

More than any of the films or kinds of films it references — Woody Allen at his most romantic, Truffaut and the like — seeing Frances Ha for me was like seeing Ghost World. A girl watches her best friend wade into mediocrity embodied by a bro banker boyfriend in Frances Ha and an apartment and adult job in their sad town in Ghost World. Ghost World's Enid thinks there maybe is a place for her in hoarder-shut-in-jazz-fan Seymour's life, but she likes herself better, in the end, nowhere. Frances Ha is also preoccupied with place, where Frances can afford to be literally and figuratively. Even though money squeezes her out of the apartment she shares with two guys, I love her rejection of the brief and perfect nouvelle vague tableau they have. I love the interplay between the very real-world condition of not being able to afford a place in these tableaux and their resemblance to entrenched cinematic fantasies!

My favorite scene in the whole film that felt like a moment in the secret world Frances describes is when she is offered an office job in the dance company for which she apprentices and she turns it down. She was not accepted onto the touring company and the consolation prize the office job represents hurts her all over again. After the movie, my significant otter said that part made him feel terrible; he wanted to scream at her and make her take the job, to respect herself and do herself a favor. When I was between jobs, turning down offers — as unreasonable as that activity is — was one of the only things that made me feel like I had any power. I cheered for her in that moment that I would always and forever experience as a fantasy.

Subjectively, I love Frances Ha more than almost any other film I've ever seen. I love it as much as Ghost World, which has long been the sole occupant of a part of my heart otherwise dedicated to real people. So it is not fair to count it alongside other films at all. "So many honorary degrees!" — I'm fortunate to enjoy a best-friendship of that romantic, mythical intensity that isn't borne of a fear of the future, like Enid and Rebecca in Ghost World, or the us-against-the-world-ness of Frances and Sophie. But Ghost World was instrumental to my high school experience, and Frances Ha is really overdue. I need a lot of comforting knowing my best friend and I are on separate paths that might not converge again like they did when we were teenagers. Some days I really need fantasy.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

I never strangled a chicken in my life.

I've been combing through old Mad Men episodes not intending to look for "maybe Pete Campbell is gay" clues but finding them anyway. The absolute winner is when he cheerfully recalls, with his brother, watching Rope. They're talking about murdering their mother, which, it's just delightful that Bob Benson's move was provoked by Pete's attempt to keep his mother alive.

I trust the story to be worth it, so I don't gun (pardon) for anything to manifest the way I want, but if only Pete would join Bob Benson and conquer everything with love. In the third season, Duck Philips identified Pete and Peggy as the ideal agency, which Ted did again in Sunday's episode. They should unite as business partners, Peggy with her cat and Pete with Bob. Joan can be the Roger and Trudy, understanding everything, can just be fabulous.

Peggy also tells Duck at their first lunch meeting that she likes his turtle neck, setting some precedent for Ted. I could just keep going.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Gosford Park Avenue.

While I'm confident in what I have to offer in as far as Girls criticism goes, when it comes to Mad Men, that I love with equal fervor, I prefer to just watch it and revel. I really enjoy the direction, the design, the costumes, the stories, the characters — and that's all, I just enjoy them. I enjoy them enough to catch myself talking about only it on the weekends, when I get to speak to anyone, like "Megan" and "Pete" are people in my life. But I'm not provoked, and that's fine — I have limited resources. I reserve all my provoked-ness for Girls and I like my viewing life that way.

To wit,

Something's come to my attention in watching this season of Mad Men that I really like that is very, very subtle. I could be missing a reference within the reference here, but there's a lot of tiny, potentially unconscious nods in the way of Gosford Park. As a sprawling but — by virtue of being a movie — contained ensemble piece, it's interesting to consider alongside a show that, in its sixth season, is frustrating some critics with a perceived de-emphasis on the ensemble as it zeros in on the protagonist, Don.

I'm presenting this observation because I have three examples. Two is a coincidence, but three is a pattern. Since I feel like my example might really be two-and-a-half — that's what this blog is for.

Matt Weiner's summary of the scene pictured above features his characterization of Bob as an "opportunist." This was noted and dismissed by Tom + Lorenzo, to whom I defer on most matters of Mad Men, but this is the exact way Julian Fellowes described Henry Denton, Ryan Phillippe's character in Gosford Park. Fellowes refuses to dignify Denton with a precise sexual orientation and insists that observations one way or another are wrong: he's only in it for what it can get him.

The parallels in these characterizations led me to consider Bob's other appearances with Henry Denton in mind. This was fun to discover: something that puts everybody off in Gosford Park is the way Denton constantly winds up where he should not be which, in that setting, is defined by what floor he's on. SC&P has a brand new upstairs/downstairs that, after much buildup, has only been defined by a few funny moments of people running. If the stairs weren't situated in the prime real estate in front of Don's office, the only way viewers would consistently understand the agency had an upstairs/downstairs would be when a certain someone is reminded he's on the wrong floor, and that someone is Bob.

An aside: every time I watch that .gif I hear Feist's "1234." I 100% endorse Bob + Pete. Much of the response to their knee-makeout has been of the "ew-why-Pete" variety. I am happy to take this moment to express my love and devotion to moments in stories when I learn something about a character, and learning that that character thinks sexy people are sexy is real From Justin to Kelly territory. Bob's interest in Pete could be explained away by Pete's standing in the agency, some say, but I think someone canny enough to target Joan to help him stay afloat during the merger would better understand to align himself with Ken Cosgrove, who has Chevy — which Bob's involved in, too — and who has been hit on by everybody. There could be a scene yet to come where Ken is all, "No, Pete, he did that to my knee, too. He's done that to everyone's knee — swig, winsome look and all." But I think it would be a superior leap in storytelling for us to explore someone who loves someone who's gone down, mother-approved, as definitively unlovable.

The other example was the most overt. Since it's a blood-relation of one of the canniest lines in Gosford Park, I'm wondering if it wasn't a reference to something else, but here: when Joan met with the Avon executive on what she thought was a date that she successfully turned into a productive lunch, he asked what her position was at the agency. Since the real answer didn't impress her — and since it's probably still lurking somewhere circa "Director of Agency Operations" — she cleverly described her job using terms almost identical to Helen Mirren's character in Gosford Park, the Joan of the manor who anticipates the needs of her employers, who knows what they want before they want it themselves. This self-characterization comes on the heels of her poisoning her employer, and Joan's self-characterization precedes something as destructive: she almost sabotages the procurement of a client. Both schemes are upended by the "real" protagonist, the young lady (Peggy on Mad Men, Mary in Gosford Park).

If Matt Weiner has been watching Fellowes' work, I'm glad he invested in Gosford Park. I don't care for that other thing he did (and now Dan Stevens is gone and now there is no point).

This all might seem really slight, but considering how everyone's place in the scheme of the business is in question, how the scrappy camaraderie of seasons four and five is totally erased because of the machinations of the big white dads — and their big white dad at GM — the subtext of class anxiety is very appropriate.

Also, if Matt Zoller Seitz's wishes for Pete come true — I could not agree more with every last one of his feelings on that subject — it would make a moment from last season even more explosively, preciously wonderful than when it happened. After Megan left the agency and Jaguar still wanted Mr. and Mrs. Draper to test drive the car, Pete tried to console Don by reminding him of the sheer momentousness that was landing a car account:

Pete: You know, if I told you last December that we’d be in the running for a car, you would’ve kissed me on the mouth
Don: Maybe you and I should go as a couple.

Yes. Yes.