Thursday, March 31, 2005

Stick It to Me

Lillet is pink.
Trey is blue.

Trey has said before that the only differences between he and I are ones of gender, and I think he's mostly right. We tend to score the same on most of those Quizilla quizzes — even "What Kind of Faggot Are You?" although in the seminal indie record quiz, I was If You're Feeling Sinister and he was Slanted and Enchanted, which is also a difference of only gender, really. This is very fortunate, as our modest incomes can only accomodate
one person's vintage cocktail dress addiction. We had our first Christmas party last year, and a mutual friend had a very hard time figuring out whose books were whose — because The Fractal Geometry of Nature turned out to be mine, and the "Que sais-je?" collection belonged to Trey.

That being said, I don't know what he will answer for the stick questionnaire — and hopefully that means we will share books on the desert island, becuase I can't imagine being on a desert island without him, and although I like saying "Read it and weep!" it's not something I can literally do.

You’re stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?

My first response was Hop on Fucking Pop, 'cause it's slender and easy, like myself in my late 20's! But, truly, I would choose To the Lighthouse, and A Wrinkle In Time.

Easy. Montaigne: Les Essais.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

What first came to mind were characters like Valentina and Nicola Six and Trudy from Coffee, Tea or Me? But taking "crush" literally rather than euphemistically, there
is only Lisa.

After much thought, I conclude that I have never really had a crush on a fictional character except in the intense way I have cathected onto/yearned to be like female characters. I can't think of
any boys in books I have crushes on, except for Gaspard. Not crushes like the crushes I had on boys in TV and music and movies. The closest thing to a book-boy-crush has probably been David Foster Wallace, and until I met him, he was kind of a fictional character of sorts — but the crush was pretty profound. In fact, I often said that my ideal man would be a cross between Jude Law and David Foster Wallace, and guess what! Reader, I married him!

But my big narcissistic girl crushes are something else. Antoinette Cosway, Wide Sargasso Sea's narrator: I had a VERY intense Medea obsession at one point. I worshipped Nancy Drew as a young girl,
reading 4+ a day. And I had a big crush on Aleytys, the heroine of the Diadem novels that are actually an super-smart extended female Bildungsroman. (As an aside, it is funny that Trey has Valentina as a crush, because I saw a copy of Crepax's Illustrated Story of O at a young age that pretty much galvanized my erotic imagination and has affected me to this day.)

The last book you bought is:

Greene/Arroyo: The Jupiter-Saturn Conference Lectures.

Richard Klein: Cigarettes Are Sublime, which I first bought about ten years ago and read while chaining Gitanes. It was purchased this time by an ex-smoker.

The last book you read:

Scalia (ed.) Zingers from the Hollywood Squares

Greene: The Astrological Neptune and the Quest for
; Considine: Bette and Joan — the Divine Feud.

What are you currently reading?

McWhorter: The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language
Greene/Sasportas: The Development of the Personality
Keller: Bouchon
Katchor: Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer: The Beauty Supply District
Perec: Jeux intéressants

I started reading Cigarettes Are Sublime in bed this morning, but stopped because I get cranky using that little clip-on, non-partner-disturbing book light my parents gave Trey for Christmas. I am still reading Greene & Sasportas' Dynamics of the Unconscious and Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me (merci Miss Mika!)

Five books you would take to a deserted island:

I am aiming for stringent honesty here as it is answers to this question that most often make me cringe and remind me of those "desert island discs" lists that used to (still do?) appear in Tower Pulse! (Dude! You're into The Cure and Philip Glass? Cool.) So I'm going to try to answer the question what books would you take to a deserted island? rather than what books would you like to be seen packing to take to a deserted island?

Conway et. al. Winning Ways for Your Mathematical Plays vols 1-4
Clapson (ed.): DK World Reference Atlas
Crystal: The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language
Šahovski Informator (any number with at least 600 games)
A very, very large collection of crossword puzzles

1) OED, but the big volumes, not that crap with the magnifying glass (although the magnifying glass could be useful to start fires).

2) Krantz: Princess Daisy, because it is the ultimate in comfort books and I have read it scores of times the way three year-olds watch the same DVDs on a loop. Krantz is the non-totebaggers A.S. Byatt, and I choose
Princess Daisy
over the pale wanna-be Posession because, frankly, the sex scenes in Posession are totally icky and gay, and, no, I don't mean hot man-on-man action! Krantz is just as silly a name-dropper as Byatt, only hers are all 70s fashion labels.

3) And then, I want to print-out all of and and put it in a big binder (all of which would be done on company time with company supplies before my exile).

4) The collected works of Liz Greene, and the collected works of Carl Jung, and the complete Diadem series of novels by Jo Clayton. Oh, then I would like a subscription to Harper's Bazaar, also.

5) Cambridge University Press' Sky Atlas 2000.0, so we can learn the constellations together.

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?

Lillet wanted to ask MasaMania, but I doubt we could get him to respond.

With apologies we ask these same questions of Ashlee, Kender, and Mr. Hell's Kitchen. We have no good response to the question of why we ask these three, aside from the obvious. We expect to be enlightened and entertained; we don't think that any of the three will take umbrage at being hit; and we hope that at least one Paladin Press book will appear on someone's lists.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

At My Witt's End

Trey keeps asking me why I bother reading Wittingshire anymore. For some reason I can’t help it. Back in what seems like the Pre-Cambrian days when Jonathan and Amanda permitted comments on their blog, I tried to establish some kind of blog-neighbor kinship with Amanda:

I too, adored Return of the King!

Your family sounds so nice – we want to homeschool too!

Merry Christmas!

Short of e-mailing her a picture of an apple pie, I had been as e-neighborly as I could. I feel very warm and oddly protective of this total stranger and I still don’t know why. Is it that she homeschools their children in the Pacific Northwest -- something I envision for Trey and I?

(When Trey and I were first engaged I gave him a copy of A Wrinkle in Time, and a few pages in he knew exactly why I had given it to him – I am both much like the angry young Meg and her scientist mother – Trey is the spitting image of Charles Wallace and of Mr. Murry. It somehown limns both the lonely children that he and I were, and the happy family we hope to build.)

Amanda’s husband Jonathan is a research fellow at the Discovery Institute. Funnily enough, it is through their blog that Trey and I became aware of the pervasiveness of the ID movement and it’s neo-creationist agenda. When Trey read the first post of Jonathan’s expressing his ID-leanings, he exclaimed “There goes the time-share in Cabo!”

Were Trey to become a Fellow at the Center for Jungian Psychology in Seattle, would our children be permitted to play with the Witt’s, were we to be actual neighbors? At this point I think it would just be too awkward all around. For example, I totally support their not having a television, but then Amanda writes something about how their children love nature programs but get upset when they are biased in favor of macroevolution. Huh? What? At the age of seven? Besides, I have spoken out virulently against her husband's research, research that moved their whole family hundreds of miles away from their home state. I guess we wouldn't be drinking wine and watching The Thorn Birds together or anything. I don't blame her. I stand by my man and she stands by hers.

I wonder if they ever felt the same way about us – “they seem nice and smart– if only they weren’t so misguided!” , although I'm sure they no longer bother with our blog, especially after my anti-ID ravings and liberal (yep, intended!) use of the word “fuck.” I suspect they don’t consider non-Christians as equals. But then, Trey has heard me scream “WHAT THE -- I give up!!” sometimes upon reading their blog.

Trey often remarks that the only differences between he and I are our genders. I agree. I think the same is true of the Witts. (At least in their blog personae – I can’t presume to really know these people.) But I find interesting is how pronounced it seems to be with those two: AW’s warmth, sense of relatedness, rapport with the natural world, and natural empathy provide a gendered foil to JW’s vibe of extreme logos -- I find his prose near unreadable, not for the ideological content but for its hermetic stench of superiority. Amanda’s landscape photographs express such joy at the beauty of the natural world, a sense of the sublime, of humility before great beauty and complexity. They express a pure and sincere yearning. To me, at any rate. I enjoyed their post on "What Useless Skill Are You?" he was Latin, she Regularly Metric Verse. [Trey and I got the same answers, except I was Latin!.]

At any rate, I initally got all crotchety over today’s entry on Robert Frost, “terza rima” and the Terri Schiavo case. This is the paragraph that sent me over the edge:

And I should say that this pattern of rhyme is called "terza rima" (aba bcb cdc ded efe)-- a set of interlocking rhymes that the poet Dante invented for his Divine Comedy, probably to symbolize the Trinity. The middle line of each stanza is a hanging rhyme; that is, it needs the next stanza in order to complete the rhyme. So you could call it expectant, or ongoing, or infinite. You could call it holy.

I did not know until a half-hour ago that the concept of Holy Trinity was apparently coined by Tertullian in the 3rd century. But it is pretty obvious that the archetypal power of three-ness – of which the Trinity is but one manifestation -- predates Christianity – the three-faced Greek Moirai; the Erinyes number three, the hurdles in all fairy tales number three as Paris has to choose which of the three goddesses was fairest; Brahma/Vishnu/Shiva; Osiris/Isis/Horus, alchemy’s tertium non data, you name it: it’s a magic number! Yes, Dante was most likely invoking the Trinity, but the ontological punch of terza rima is NOT because of the Trinity, but the fundamental and archetypal holiness of THREENESS that undergirds all these tropes.

It drives me crazy when people think that a deep principle is the province of their religion alone. Wotan hung himself upon the Tree of Life long before Christ, whose birthday month belongs to Capricorn, the astrological symbol of duty and sacrifice, of occult power and the agony of embodiment. Again the time-honored tragic interchange of forest for trees, tenor for vehicle: an acceptable mistake for students in Critical Interpolation but not when it results in things like, oh, The Crusades. I was all fierce about this when I started writing, but now feel something akin to resignation: I'm suddenly reminded of how I felt when I found out that my best friend Beth was no longer allowed over at our house: we lived on the military base, and gossip got around fast that my parents were divorcing, and her mother thought it “inappropriate” that Beth be exposed to a home mid-wreck.

I feel the "holiness" of terza rima too. I see my God when I look at the ripe, coelenterate moon over the city, at Venus’ delicate shadow transiting the Sun, or when Trey and I openly wept under the Natural History museum’s enormous whale last Friday. But I suspect that were I to walk over with a pie, the Witts might prefer it happen when they were out of town. It's probably best that way -- to gently leave our pies on each other's doorsteps since it's impossible for us to convert each other, as much as I think she and I feel a kindred ache when transfixed by an infinite canopy of stars, a creche of paperwhites.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Hit with the Shtick

I've been watching this stick be passed around, one in which people are asked some questions, the answers to which demonstrate that they have in the past read some books and are likely in the future to read some more. The responses have made me slightly uneasy, much in the way I was made uneasy back in college by the very earnest students who would ask me to sign petitions indicating my opposition to apartheid. Yes, I will sign this; I will also sign the petition indicating my support of Good and opposition to Evil.

It's not that things like this are invitations to totebaggery. Well, they are, or at least they could be. But few of the responses I've seen have toted the bag: nothing along the lines of oh how I would welcome being stranded on a deserted island so that I may finally in peace complete
Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften!
And it's not that things like this are more interesting to the author than they could ever be to any reader, because that's just a defining quality of blogs. What really bothers me about things like this is that I knew that sooner or later Lillet and I would be passed such a stick. Luckily, it was passed to us by Mika Cooper of Mikarrhea. Mika eschews the academe and post-academe mores that make this stick so nose-scrunching for me, while at the same time writing lucidly about literary topics ... and also about oversized penises and the Gilmore Girls. That is to say, she writes about what interests her rather than about what she thinks ought to interest her, or what she wants people to believe is of interest to her.

Lillet and I will answer the questions, partly out of vanity, partly because it is Mika who asked us to, but my uneasiness remains. Really: if anyone gives a shit about what it is I am reading they can send me an email and ask. Given the nature of the questions and the network in which this stick has been disseminated it's hard to read this as much more than a pep rally for the Smart Kids. God knows the Smart Kids need a pep rally right now: the Jocks and the Rich Kids are once again kicking our asses. What I have found interesting since Lillet and I have started blogging (very recently) is that the Smart Kids have adopted some of the strategies of the Jocks and the Rich Kids, namely, intimidation: I have read these books and attended these classes and here are these links so just shut up.

I can't help but believe that it is the changes in academia that have altered the Smart Kid strategies. Until my generation, the Smart Kids got tenure, always had a safe haven from which to express
their opinions. Mine is (or, was) the first generation of indentured servitude in the academy. And I think that this has made for some rather bitter blogs.

This is how I felt until I recalled sitting by myself in Junior High, reading who-knows-what and feeling impossibly alone. I'm lucky: I am no longer lonely. But if this stick is a way for even one of us who sat in the back of the cafeteria reading Beckett or Poe or Darwin or Weber or Feynman or Greene to feel less lonely, I'm all for it.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Oh, My Aching Groin!

A few weeks ago, Lillet and I were browsing a new vintage store in our neighborhood. I knew it was a "vintage" store and not a thrift store because t-shirts advertising one's purported membership in the Valpariso 4H club were priced at $12. (If any of you folks in the middle want to send your crap our way, I'm sure we can work out some sort of consignment deal. But please, no trucker caps. That's so 2002.)

The other way I could tell it was a vintage store is that this yellowed 150pp paperback had originally been $1.25 and was now $3.50. I must have grumbled, because Lillet, without even looking up from the book she was perusing on astrology or Christian eschatology or alchemy or sex but most likely all four, said, "Just get it; you know you're going to, anyway." So I found myself the owner of a vintage copy of Zingers from the Hollywood Squares.

I admit to real fascination with this strange cultural moment, one in which Henny Youngman and Erica Jong, Black Sabbath and the King Family Singers all commingled. But I was surprised to learn in reading these zingers the extent to which the ontogeny of humor recapitulates its phylogeny. All of these jokes are naively smarmy, like an eight year-old boy putting a couple of grapefruits under his shirt to get a laugh. For the Squares, just an utterance of words like "motel" and "stewardess" is good for a laugh (and is code for transgressive sex).
Can an airline stewardess get pregnant and remain a stewardess?
PAUL LYNDE: Yes. After a cigarette and a little nap.

According to Dear Abby, is it considered in good taste for a couple to frame their marriage certificate and hang it on the wall?
CHARLIE WEAVER: No. They might forget it when they check out.
Apparently, this worked even with non-sequiturs.
According to the Cosmo Girl's Guide to the New Etiquette, it is "the most common cause of tooth loss among adults." What is it?
PAUL LYNDE: Adultery.
But there is one sub-genre of joke I just don't get at all. When was it, why was it, that hernias were funny? In 150 pages we are treated to no fewer than six hernia jokes.
There's an old slang expression people use. They say: "That man is in double harness." What does that mean?
JAN MURRAY: His hernia is worse.

In mythology, how did that legendary strong man, Hercules, finally die?
CHARLIE WEAVER: A double hernia.

According to Robert Redford, man's greatest weakness can be summed up in one word. What word?

After a 3-hour-and-15-minute battle, Frankie Laine recently got himself one that weighed 310 pounds. Just what did Frankie get himself?
JAN MURRAY: A hernia.

In 1953, the world's greatest weight lifter, Paul Anderson, lifted 6,000 pounds. What did he get for it?
PAUL LYNDE: The world's biggest hernia.

In the popular book and movie, The Andromeda Strain, what is the Andromeda Strain?
JAN MURRAY: It's a Greek hernia.
Oh, that Jan Murray!

My theory of the hernia joke is that it is as far as anyone would dare go towards zinging an acknowledgment of male sexuality. No one zung female genitalia any more than they would zing male genitalia, but women have, well, tits. And tits are hilarious.
Are watermelons popular in Italy?
CHARLIE WEAVER: Well, Sophia's a big star there.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Croquis Madame

Since I was a kid, I've been obsessed with the "sound" of languages, their characteristic tones and rhythms. To this day, it drives me crazy when I overhear but can't identify a foreign language.

Not long after this obsession took hold, I realized that — although I would get better and better at recognizing by sound languages of which I had no knowledge — I would never, ever know what English sounded like to foreign ears. Just as Dutch and Hungarian and Japanese all "sounded" like something to me, so did, to others, English. But this characteristic sound is something I would never get to hear (unless I were to suffer some overwhelming neurological impairment).

It's much the same with places, with countries, cultures. What is to us as water is to fish is the most interesting possible thing to someone who doesn't live in our water. Parisians don't even notice those guys in the green jumpsuits, while to me they are the most charmingly weird thing in the world, no matter how often I visit. And so I am grateful to
Corine Lesnes
, the New York correspondent for Le Monde, and author of the excellent blog, Big Picture: Croquis d'Amérique. She helps me see how weird and wonderful, how beautiful and stupid is my city and country.

Did you know about Henry Waxman's series of investigations into Haliburton's overbillings? I mean, who knew? Not me, and I'm giving myself a pass, since a search of his name in Yahoo News retrieves forty-two stories about steroids in baseball before one damn word about Haliburton.

Mme. Lesnes' tone is bemused, exactly as it ought to be for someone trying to describe the water. Everyone's water is weird, and she can tell you exactly how ours seems weird, whether it be politics, Michael Jackson's pajamas, or just silliness like the Idiotarod. We know that all New York journalists read the Onion (at least do all the ones you'd want to read). Mme. Lesnes says so, and why.

Mme. Croquis' sketches are no blague.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The Pursuit of Happy Meals

Kender recently published a rant in which he asked whether we urbanites would like migrant workers to be paid a "living wage," in which case we would then be paying four dollars for a tomato. And he's absolutely right about this. Four dollars at the very least.

Only I'm not sure that it would ever get to that point. I doubt that many Americans would be willing to do the work of migrant farm workers, even if it were to pay as much as working at Wendy's or Starbucks, at least as long as the Wendy's and Starbucks options remained. Fruits and vegetables would likely rot on the vine long before any of us would work those hours in that heat and risk daily the loss of digits. Besides, most Americans just aren't in good enough physical shape to do that sort of work.

I believe that this is the unacknowledged motivation behind the Minuteman Project.
Whatever else might come of immigration across the southern border of the U.S., we know that these are the brown people responsible for cluttering America's supermarkets with fruits and vegetables and taking valuable shelf space away from Cheetos and Steak-ums and Oreos, putting in their place inedible crap like broccoli rabe. Betrayed by the federal government, the Minutemen have courageously taken matters into their own hands, halting the artichoke monkeys in their tracks.

It remains only to find a method of mechanical harvesting of tomatoes, still, regrettably, a crucial ingredient in ketchup.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Happy Birthday

Today marks 69 orbits of this rock around our sun from GP's birth on March 7, 1936.

GP, a Parisian author, was a brilliant and joyful manipulator of words who quit this rock much too soon, in 1982, not long past composition of his magnum opus, A Handbook for Living (from now on, LAUM), and positing a partial final book, 53 Days. A lung malignancy took him just as vocation as an author was finally a possibility. Until his victory with LAUM, his living was won mostly as an archivist to physicians.

GP was a vigorous participant in Oulipo (roughly, workshop of writing that might occur), an organization of authors and math-savants who sought to fashion "constraints" by which authors might mold writings. This
notion was not unknown prior to Oulipo, nor is it as unfamiliar as it might sound to you at first. Familiar to you, no doubt, is that form known as a small Italian song, with its 14 strings of iambs. This is a form of constraint, and a rigid sort at that.

GP's constraint construction was not amongst Oulipian's most prolific nor most amazing, but his utilization of his cohorts' constraints was maximally prodigious and artful.

GP's most famous book-long constraint is found in La Disparition, a labyrinth of a story, which GP was to construct in toto with no occasion for that fifth unit of our string of Roman symbols, that is to say, without an E. (Just as astonishing a work is GA's translation of this work, known as A Void, into Australia's lingua franca. GA is known to film buffs as author of
Amour and Mort on Long Island, a film starring John Hurt and that guy from 90210.)

That cardinality of constraints in play in GP's composition of LAUM is too gigantic and so much do said constraints link that this composition cannot do honor to its intricacy. Say for now only that that this book's map is that of a knight's tour on an abstract grid, with LAUM's units in isomorphism to units of a building which is, in a way of thinking, a protagonist of this uncommon work.

Contrary to claims — such as that infamously by WL about JJ's King of Ithaca, that it was formal acrobatics without mirth — LAUM and all of GP's writings occasion gratifying folio-turning and a joyful mitzvah of vocabulary and thought.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Lacuna Beach Lifeguard

Obviously these people have never seen mine.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Because Our Cable Is Fucked Up

I had to watch this masterpiece at work!

(If you don't do Quicktime, you can just see it for Windows here!)

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Come Out Swinging!

Lillet and I would like to extend a warm
welcome to the three people who arrived today at this blog by Googling HILLARY SWANK BOOB JOB. Imagine how much traffic we would have generated by spelling her name correctly!

Sad to say, you'll find little information about Swanky boobs here. I hope these photographs provide some small consolation.

Thanks for visiting.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Hold, Please!

I finally get health insurance after seven long uninsured years, just in time for the looming spectre of this cockamamie nonsense.

Ah, Ms. Holt, if only there were legislation that provided a ‘conscious clause’ [sic]. If only.

Wouldn’t it be swell if I could perform MY job according to my religious beliefs! If I were to found my own organization, “Receptionist/Admins for Enlightenment Values Including but Not Limited to Reason, in addition to Spinozan Pantheism and Complete Sovereignty Over One’s Person?” Here’s how MY day might proceed:

Your Heroine: “Good morning, thank you for calling Das Kapital Group – how may I assist you?

Caller: “ I’m calling with a question about a fact sheet for an offshore large-cap growth fund –“

Y. H. : “Certainly! I’d be happy to transfer you, if you answer one question for me so that I may assist you? Do you think homosexual unions should be illegal? And did you vote for George W. Bush?

Caller: “Well, I don’t see how it’s any of your business, but yes, and ye—Hello? Hello?”

Tee hee! That would be fantastic!

(Except I’d lose my job, and my healthcare benefits.)

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Nope: Unintended

Ask Lillet: I am really not One of Those People. I didn't spoil anyone's 99/00 New Year's Eve by insisting that the new millennium wouldn't begin until the following year. I won't correct anyone's grammar unless they're paying me to do so. I will happily hand you a hatchet with which to split infinitives and will only mutter to myself when someone conflates irony and coincidence. I'm fine with the hyperbolic use of "literally."

But I can no longer abide the misuse of the phrase "no pun intended." It's more than linguistic confusion; it's a bit of a social lie.

I heard two egregious examples of this on ABC's Oscar post-game show. The first was by one of those television people so obsequiously mewling that they can be trusted only to harass people trying to go to a party. As Hillary Swank swept past, we were treated to a description of the glorious arc of her career. It seems that some thought she would not live up to the Oscar she won for "Boys Don't Cry," but, we learned, "she came out swinging ... no pun intended." The second was by ABC's fashion expert who described the women (and only women) with ill-fitting dresses as "tonight's misfits, no pun intended."

The problem here turns on two confusions. One is the meaning of the word "pun." The other is the meaning of the word "intended."

A pun is the intentional confusion of similar-sounding words. To say that Hillary Swank "came out swinging" in "Million Dollar Baby" isn't a pun at all; it's a metaphor, a rather tired one, in other words, a cliché, and made worse by its groaningly obvious context. The fashion expert was a little bit closer to punning, but the "fit" in "misfit" and "ill-fitting" is just the same "fit." When making a pun it's a good idea to have at least two different words in mind.

What's really cringe-making about "come out swinging" isn't that pun and metaphor were confused, but that I am sure that this person meant to make this connection between Swank's supposed comeback and the fact that she had just won an award for playing a boxer. In other words, pun or not, it was very much intended. So by telling us that no pun was intended, she's not only mistaken about what she said, she's lying about it.

It's not a malicious lie; it's a lie of social anxiety, a way of saying, "I'm not really comfortable with this language thing, and I'm not quite sure what it is I just said, so let me use this other cliché as a kind of get-out-of-jail-free card."

But, really, is it too much to ask that the people who are well-paid to speak to large audiences be reasonably comfortable with language?