This piece of music is very important to me. I can't explain it. It's the 'Prelude' that plays when you open the map in the original Final Fantasy game. TCELES B HSUP.
This piece of music is very important to me. I can't explain it. It's the 'Prelude' that plays when you open the map in the original Final Fantasy game. TCELES B HSUP.
Weeks ago there was a weird discussion board thread about how this guy's dad had died and now he's uncommunicative and very late delivering on a $50K Kickstarter, so (the consensus was) It Is Therefore Right and Good that people get refunds, not just later (when he's finished taking foreeeeeever mourning) but right goddamn now; I read every post and then posted that this behaviour is repulsive, embarrassing, etc. I was not polite, because I was angry. It is totally inappropriate to piss on a human being in mourning, even if he has $50 of yours and you don't yet have your Elf Dungeon he promised to make for you. I say this despite the fact that I find the man in question to be something of a jerk.
This is the sort of thing I do when I can't concentrate on work; it's one of the reasons I'm often unhappy about my leisure practices.
Anyway I got banned for a week, which wasn't a huge surprise -- (some of) the forum's mods have a reputation for being emotionally retarded parochial shits, and as I said, I was not polite. But I believe I was right to post as I did.
This is what the Internet brings you to, folks.
My man Mike and his beautiful wife Luana had a baby daughter – future hippie Nobelist footballer no doubt – and I was so proud and glad for them; every time my friends have babies I get this feeling like we might be able to raise a loving beautiful army of generous fools to suffuse everything with light. To take the word further or something, or in the first place at least find out what the word might be. Become a polytonal love song (maybe all the songs and sounds).
The Jazz Spectrum on WHRB played Trane's studio 'My Favorite Things,' all tightly wound menacing groove. Tyner barely even solos, he just keeps that vibrant swinging six going in the piano's midrange (the four feels too soon every single time and then isn't) while Elvin paces back and forth on the drum forbidden for the moment from tearing the place down. Steve Davis thumps out that droning open fifth over and over until it stops being an ostinato or even a formal musical element at all and becomes a, Christ, I guess a principle or a topological aside (mountains recurring out a train window). Then Trane comes back for his second solo all cascades and collapsing free across key clusters, his tone strangely pinched and splitting into harmonics when he really moves.
In college I'd fall asleep to A Love Supreme and never wondered whether that was normal. It's not, but then what is?
I haven't listened to Trane in a long time, and had forgotten what a powerful effect his music has on me. One of my few 'religious' activities is to listen to 'Venus' (off Interstellar Space, his duet album with Rashied Ali) alone in the dark at a time of intense transformation. It is always a harrowing, ultimately joyful experience. Last time I listened was the week after Edgar died.
Hearing Trane's 'Summertime' today bore me up that way.
Afterward a friend asked about things and I talked about the day my son was born. The day feels like too much. 'But in a good way,' as if that meant a goddamned thing. As if 'good' could survive the absolute immensity of it. Is the ocean good? The question washes away.
...because Europe in the immediate aftermath of WWII is harrowing to read about. If this isn't one of the saddest, scariest, deadliest, craziest moments in history then I can't bear to read any more history. The writing is very fine but the subject matter is almost unbearable.
Unfortunately, having started one book I'm having trouble dipping into another, even to lighten the emotional/cognitive load. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present the real stars of this blog, not to mention its head writers: my neuroses. Yep yep.
...but I know they're going on now because everyone in my Twitter feed is talking about the Oscars, or not talking (what's up Farhad). And it sucks, because the Oscars suck -- they celebrate bullshit, tackily -- and my Twitter feeder-er-ers don't suck a priori. Am I misusing that phrase?
Other thing that sucks, by the way: being at the Med Center all morning. And: worrying all day about meningitis. Which is 'totally a thing,' as the children say, though probably not a thing anyone in my family has at present, touch wood.
When I started this blog I think I changed the default category from 'Movies' to 'Film' and now I regret it. They're just movies.
I have all these things I want to write but this is the first time I've been able to do anything but fret about illness pretty much all weekend. It'll have to wait, blah blah.
I've been very sick for a couple of days, and taking care of my very sick son for a couple days before that. It's been podcast time. Dan Harmon (creator of Community) and Jeff Davis ('suit-clad gadabout,' formerly of Whose Line Is It Anyway?) do a show called Harmontown -- it's a chance for the compulsive, depressive, 'self-destructive' Harmon to get some performative therapy, in the form of long unhinged rants and the occasional piece of surprisingly deft two-handed improv. Sometimes Harmon's girlfriend and comedienne/improvisor Erin McGathy joins in.
Every week they play Dungeons & Dragons with a DM named Spencer, whom they plucked from the crowd at the Nerdmelt Theater in LA. He is their Karl Pilkington.
They are on tour right now (yes, even Spencer), releasing each of twenty mostly-nightly shows as a free podcast the very next day. I've been listening to Harmontown for a while. At times it's brilliant, transcendent, heartrending not-quite-comedy of the kind Community fans know well, as when Harmon read a loooooong excerpt of his teenage journal onstage; I actually cried during that bit. At times it's two drunks fucking around onstage. The tour is going very, very well so far; they are nervous and feeling their way through things.
Please give them a listen.
I read a bunch of Cosmicomics while visiting a two-years-older friend at college; I was a senior in high school and had never driven as far as Cornell, which I liked well enough. He recommended the book. I stole it. It's there on my shelf now, but I haven't opened it in years.
The summer after, what, sophomore or junior year at MIT, I used to ride the #1 bus up and down Mass Ave and read long stretches of Ulysses or Borges's stories and lose slowly my mind, or I guess I mean my me. My favourite ideas. I somehow overflowed a toilet at a Chinese restaurant at Wellesley while wearing a purple flightsuit. That is not germane to the story except that I had Joyce with me at the time and felt therefore like I shouldn't be blamed for things going wrong, like fuck you I'm doing something serious here.
I count as maybe the best reading experience of that summer, though, the time I took the Blue Line to Logan and sat (this was well before '9/11' hahahahahahahahahahhaha) in Terminal B overlooking the runway and read If on a winter's night a traveler. I bawled my eyes out because it was so unimaginably beautiful and sounded, I remember, like what the city looked like to me. Not then, as seen from Logan, which doesn't offer a great view as I recall; I mean when young-me would walk around in Boston I'd see it the way that book sounded to me. Frames overlaid, halfstories kind of shuffling forward and then sprouting new story-buds whose course of growth would be the next, what, five minutes or an hour of my day. Of young-me. That was a blissful summer. Or no, it was the summer when Jen and I split up and I was sad all the time; but then young-me worked like a dog that summer, and drove home from SIGGRAPH in 'The Violet Beauregard,' which Xor insisted was actually called 'Flumph' or something awful; and the toilet overflowed a little while after that.
For the life of me I can't care about that. The toilet. The only important thing was bliss in the Terminal, and changing. Is. The only important thing is.
From an AV Club interview he did this year:
AVC: You’re in Woody Allen’s next film. How did that come about?
LCK: That was a really big deal. In show business, when you really have a career that takes a while, you don’t get those big moments. You don’t get those “Oh my God, it’s me” things. You get the call—“You’re playing Carnegie Hall”—and then you go, “Yeah, well, what are they paying me?” Because how you get to Carnegie Hall is you sell out Town Hall twice in a year, and now you sell enough tickets to do a show at Carnegie Hall. Carnegie Hall is a shitty deal: They have a high-paid crew, and the rent is high, and you don’t make that much money. So that moment that you think is going to be a guy in a tuxedo bringing you a pearly telephone and saying, “You’re playing Carnegie Hall”—it doesn’t happen. You have worked your way there in tiny steps, so by the time you get to Carnegie Hall, it’s as natural as playing anywhere else. [Laughs.] I’ve had a few times where I’ve been told, “You might be getting this thing that’s going to make you feel amazing,” and then it doesn’t happen that way, usually. You work in little steps. This, by the way, isn’t a huge career boost. It’s just for me; it’s personal. But I got a call that Woody’s making a movie and that his casting people wanted to show him my stuff, and so they asked us what to show him. And we said, “Some standup, some episodes, and maybe Parks And Rec.” And I guess we showed him some good stuff. Then I got an email saying, “Woody wants to meet with you and have you read for a part.” And that was a big deal, to know that I’m going to meet him.
AVC: You had to audition.
LCK: Yeah, I was told he wanted me to read. The story I always hear is that he meets you for 10 seconds, and then he decides. He wanted me to read, but he also wanted to meet me. Because the other option is always that you either read for Julia Taylor or you meet Woody, that’s what I’ve heard. You hear these things. There’s a lot of different versions out there. But anyway, I went to his office. I got there early because I was scared to be late, and then I went in to his little office and… very nice people—his assistant, his casting director. Then I was brought into this little room, and he’s standing there, waiting for me, in a sweater. And he looks just like Woody Allen.
That thought was in my head, that he looks just like Woody Allen. And he was very sweet. He said, “Look, I don’t mean to make you read because I think you can’t act. I know you can act. I’m just not sure that you can be this kind of guy. This is a very tough guy.” So he told me to go take the sides outside, think about it, read them, and come back. And when I went outside, I was overcome emotionally. I couldn’t believe I just met him. He was very kind to me, and I met him. It was a big deal for me; I didn’t care if I got the part or not. I really didn’t care. And I went back in and read it, and my heart rate was too high, I couldn’t control it, I didn’t do a perfect job, and they didn’t give me the part. But he found something else for me. So I got a personal letter from Woody saying, “You were too nice to be this guy, but how about this other guy?” The letter was very nice, and it’s my prized possession. It’s framed. If there’s a fire, I grab my kids and then the letter.
A man's words.
See that tab up there, at the top of the page? The one that says
Click that sucker to journey to a magical land where you can buy things I have written.
THAT IS ALL.
I wrote a book-length fiction called THE ALLWORLDS CATALOGUE. It's not a novel, not just a collection of short stories; it's a single long thing made of myriad shorter things. It's hard to describe. There are funny bits and scary ones, some sad stories, Weird stories, a passage about a spaceship that's also a fraternity, a very old thing I wrote for (not quite about) my hometown, a very new thing I wrote for someone else's hometown. Much is made of the Weave, whatever (you decide) that is.
Paperback edition here, Kindle edition (and Amazon distribution) coming shortly. That makes three books of mine you can now buy and be distinctly over/under/merely whelmed by! (That's a lot of LaTeX to be crunching. Aaaaaah self-publishing, you do please me.)
Allworlds took a lot out of me -- more than the Phish book, unsurprisingly, though that one's surprisingly close to the bone -- and I'm proud of it. If you've liked anything on this blog, I'm sure something in Allworlds will speak to you. (Small pieces of it ran here over the years, though they make up a small percentage of the book.)
Give it a read if you're so inclined, and lemme know what you think; if you like it, pass it on.
This summer/fall I wrote a book of essays/criticism/blather about Phish, specifically their Fall 1997 tour. It's on sale right here. The weird cover image is right there on the right.
It's called A TINY SPACE TO MOVE AND BREATHE.
Available in softcover for $10+shipping today, Kindle/ePub later this or next week (allowing for Sandy-related delays).
It contains stuff like this:
Phish shows provide unbelievable sensory overload – not just tinnitus-inducing volumes of sound like every goddamn concert nowadays, but Chris Kuroda’s outlandish improvised light show, that inescapable mix of sweaty human and burnt-plant smells, the press of nearby bodies…it’s nothing like the antiseptic experience of listening on headphones in your home (like I’m doing right now, Timber > Simple to kick off the second set; I just killed a moth). Half the appeal of such an experience is its inescapable sensuality: you’re very much caught up with your fellow humans at the show, particularly smooshed together in that small space right in front of the stage but really no matter where in the arena you are. There’s nowhere to go and nothing to do, really, but dance; no one forces you to move but you’ll have a much easier time of it if you do, not least in avoiding the spasmodic ‘dancing’ of the dude next to you…
And of course the key to this pleasurable overload is first off the sensory deprivation that precedes and enables it. Same with going to the movies, compared to television: in the dark with lots of anonymous people, getting sensory information without context (like being tickled in a blindfold), your audiovisual senses ascendant, subconscious movements marking time, above all a feeling that your comfort in the physical environment will be provided for so that your psychic space can come under a kind of consensual assault – we enter into such places (contracts) to experience very literal psychotropism (mind-changing), assured of our providers’ benign intent. What if god could promise your safety after sunset – would you wander? Would you dream further out if you knew you’d be able to welcome in a world of no worry, afterward?
TV is domestic. Head-sized heads in your living room, stories about doctors cops firemen and high school students singing about true love. ‘Normal.’ The movies are bigger than life: bodiless and placeless, you’re greeted by 20-foot-tall giants beaming grand emotions and booming voices at one another (at you, in you). It’s like having your sensorium directly interfered with, as scary and maybe amazing as that sounds. (You can even do it stoned if you like.)
As soon as cop and detective shows made it on TV, the movies could start treating those figures with all the ambivalence of hushed private conversation. (‘I don’t want to seem…well, you know…but sometimes I can’t help thinking…’) Movies are about danger, and about relief. They scare you and then comfort you.[^moviecomfort] You go into the dark to receive the Light. Ever been to church? Same thing. Easter Vigil, the Paschal candle, robed wizard leading tuneless chants: ‘Christ our light…light of Christ…light…’ Then the lights come on and something new can be born. The year. Believers.
There's also a good bit about 'this segue compares favourably to the performance from...' but you already knew that, on account of it's a 220-page fan book about a single Phish tour.
OK lovers, there you have it. Hope you like it.
Keeping busy on a Friday with some Photoshop MAJESTY: take a gander at the cover of 'A Tiny Space to Move and Breathe,' featuring the absolute most perfect cover image ever coughed up by a search for Creative Commons photos on Flickr...
$10, cheap! On sale VIA THE DIGITALS in a couple days.
Yes, this book is aimed primarily at a very specific audience. Yes, it contains many many pages of characteristically undisciplined digressions on a host of topics, 9/11 (weirdly) prominent among them. Important facts about this work:
The phrase 'apocalyptic time, mirror time' appears more than once. The title is from the song 'Dirt' which I rather like. China Miéville is mentioned; his fashioned choices are questioned. The phrase 'COCK-MISSILE' also appears, alas. And yes, it's capitalized like that. Useful Google search strings are adumbrated -- ahh the hell with it, here's one: hoydog23 spreadsheet. Dig it. SPOILER: A good deal of psychophilosophical thrashing-about and parenthesizing occurs, is apologized for, and is EXTREMELY ENDEARING.
The book of essays/articles/nonsense I assembled a while back, FALSEHOODS, CONCERNS, is available here for $9.99 plus shipping. It runs to ~180 pages in paperback and now has a charming cover photograph of a treasure map, as you can see in the li'l clickable thumbnail image on the right.
Here's a very kind, indeed generous review from Mr A.R.R.R.R.R. Roberts.
I get a little more than $4 per copy if you buy F,C from Createspace. Not bad! If you would rather buy the book through Amazon -- paying less for shipping, perhaps, and/but cutting my royalty in half -- you'll have to wait a few days. BUT WHY WOULD YOU HATE ME THAT WAY.
In the next week or so I'll have three more books for sale at the same site. To whet your non-appetite, here are the titles: The Allworlds Catalogue (fiction), Fixing You (self-
help hindrance), and A Tiny Space to Move and Breathe (about a band I like).
Kindle/ePub to come as soon as I figure out my Markdown-to-ebook workflow.
I wrote another book, this one ostensibly about Phish (but not nearly just that), and if you think you'd like to read it, drop a line and I'll let you know when it's available -- probably on CreateSpace or somesuch site, because this isn't exactly mass-market material. :)
Twice in the past couple of days, I've had an idea for a blog post, opened up my blogging software (ecto.app), looked quickly at another webpage, tabbed back to ecto, and had no idea what I was going to write about.
sometimes it helps me to imagine that i am a dream someone else is having.
i don't mean that i'm the content of the dream, like the dream is [i]about[/i] me; but rather i'm the electrical processes someone else experiences as nighttime visions. so when i lift my hand to point to antelope greg and say 'i'm glad i'm not that person, there's something desperate about all that,' someone named mimitch or frabway or agrombeaux sees herself inside a car that's attached to the outside of a building that's upside down on the inside of a great planet-sized box that's sitting on the bottom of a dog-sized barrel (barrel-sized, i guess?) that's floating down the aorta of a child who might someday be president, or might not, who knows.
or when i'm dancing and the music is really tremendous and i'm able to be really grateful for my own life and not think about anyone else's very real and serious mental problems, and i cast my eyes upward which is this sort of universal acknowledgment of felt immensity -- they don't come more atheist than me but christ there's something about looking up -- in that instant maybe agrombeaux gets an inkling that his boss is in the room but she's a horse; or frabway will later remember crumpling up a newspaper dated 9/11/01 but no matter how much she crumpled she couldn't make the images of death go away; or mimitch experiences that lower-abdominal rush of falling, terror, and looking down she or he can see the mouth of god-earth opening up all fire and light within and maybe he or she thinks 'i've never been alone in this life and that's the blessing.'
that would be alright, to be someone's dream; and alright too to know it, to shape that dream, to turn someone's nighttime light into blue music and the remembered taste of love in its dying moments; i'd be ok with it if it were that way, but something tells me: it's just not that complicated.
Recent live Phish. If you're interested in improvisatory rock music, this is a great time to give Phish a(nother) listen. Their new music has the patience (critics called it 'self-indulgence') of their late-90s dance-trance rhythmic explorations, the generous spirit of their Billy Breathes-era Americana, and greater-than-ever harmonic complexity. Their 2009 album Joy pointed toward the textures and ensemble structures they've been working with, but songs like 'Twenty Years Later' and especially 'Light' have become platforms for leaderless open-form improvisation that's welcoming despite its remarkable musical (informational!) density. The circling polytonality offers one surprise after another without getting opaque -- it's like Ornette (very) Lite, but with a stronger sense of itself than that tag might suggest. I really do think they're at their best right now, and it's never been easier to jump into their live music.
We're Late for Class, Music of the Spheres. Boring SF-cliché samples, pointless swing-jackass drumbeats, and truly insipid 'blues' guitar noodling add up to perfect trance-inducing background noise. I love this kind of stuff for cycling (Phish's 6/14/00 'Twist' suite is a much better example of the form).
Wayne Shorter, Night Dreamer. This was the comedown as I arrived at Alewife. Hard to tell whether the overwhelming sense of Trane's presence comes from the unmistakable Elvin/Tyner/Workman rhythm section or actually part of Shorter's tenor sound -- maybe summa both -- but Shorter's sing-song (the nicer term is indeed 'songlike' but I'm a toddler's dad and 'sing-song' is a compliment) approach won me over by the second or third tune, just in time for 'Virgo' to sound exactly like Trane rewriting 'Blue in Green' (down to the astrological title!). Tyner is too tasteful for my taste! I've previously only listened closely to his playing with Coltrane, where he'd just hammer out these chords like a piano rolling down a rock-strewn hill. This is something else: far more restrained (Elvin sounds like a human being instead of Catastrophe), plenty of harmonic meat but none of that unholy power that Trane's quartet generated. I like the album, it's just sort of inbetweenish for me. Fortunately no one's taking away my late-60s Miles quintet albums...
I didn't get it, but I've finally gotten it, I get it; and though I don't care at all, his The Show has at times lifted me up, and there is much to be grateful for, there. The new 'A Show' has started well. I hope it goes somewhere new. Or just somewhere. I hope it works.
My dismissal of Frank was petty and I'm ashamed of it.
I read this 'YA novel' in a single 90-minute gulp before bed last night. It's lovely and I very much enjoyed it (thanks Norah). I'll note, almost as an afterthought (I forget things like this), that the illustrations are a dark delight.
[SPOILERS FOLLOW for a story worth reading unspoiled.]
I feel churlish picking on Ness for this, but the climax is frustrating, and throws an uncomfortable light on the rest of the book. A Monster Calls is, after all, about a single mother dying, and her son Conor's complex ambivalence about her impending death -- he knows she won't survive her cancer and his dark secret is that he wants it to be over even so. In his recurring nightmare, his secret, (he thinks) he can save his mother from falling to her death, but he lets her go -- he lets her die. The climax of the book is Ness's rendering of Conor's nightmare, and his confession to the Monster that he wishes for the dying to end, for death to come.
The words 'die' and 'death' don't appear in the book. The words 'It's not your fault' do, of course. This strikes me as an evasion, and a mistake.
Ness retreats from his (strong) rendering of Conor's limited perspective only to make speeches through the Monster, and that's a mistake too. What's missing from the book is a clear picture of what the other characters are going through; after all, that's the thing that no teenage reader is going to understand on his own, but it's the real story, even the cosmic one: Conor's isn't the only life here, but it's the only one Ness focuses on.
The story is divided between somewhat didactic (and in one instance weirdly tonally mismeasured) scenes at Conor's school, somewhat incomplete scenes with Conor's father and grandmother (a fascinating character who deserves, but doesn't get, a moment of revelation comparable to Conor's), and the Monster's evocative stories, which are the best part of the book. Indeed, the novel is a little stiff until the Monster tells his first tale; Ness takes obvious pleasure in the Monster's Entish voice, and the tales themselves are evocative and meaningfully ambivalent.
Each of the three tales contains more wisdom than the novel as a whole, I think -- if that's even possible.
After my own mother died I spent a long time -- years -- seeking comfort and withdrawing from the world, which is knowledge (which is experience). My 'healing process' was slowed by my own insistence, and various people's ready agreement, that it was in fact a discrete process, and that its focus was pain or suffering.
People die. Death isn't special. There's no one to blame; blame is a fiction. It's comfort.
What I needed, in order to 'heal,' was knowledge: to realize that I wasn't the center of the 'story,' that it had no center. My mom's death was pointless. Yours will be too.
Conor's grandmother buries her only daughter. Conor's dad isn't there for his ex-wife's death. These stories are as much a part of Conor's life as his own suffering.
Why do we comfort ourselves by fixating on our pain, when pain is part of something larger? Why are we quick to narrow our vision at those moments of deepest transformation?
I don't think my 'youth' was or is a good excuse for my selfishness.
These things I'm saying feel ugly even as I say them. Conor is a kid and his story is meant to provide solace for young people trying to understand the emptiness of death. But I can't help thinking that the truth of dying -- its physicality, its inevitability, its nothingness, how small a thing death is -- isn't a problem to be solved. It is the solution. The problem, I've come to believe, is that we make other people's deaths about us, and avoid the mounting evidence that nothing in the world is about us. Not even mom dying. Especially not that.
It seems to me that A Monster Calls is part of a true story, but by its partiality it implies something false. The stories it doesn't tell, the ones Ness skillfully alludes to in the Monster's tales and the grandmother's story but is unwilling, for some reason, to tell outright...those stories belong in this book too. I wish they were here.
In winter I start to experience lust as always-already thwarted -- not by winter clothing (c'mon) but by my own inward-retreating lethargy or self-protectiveness or body shame or something. I don't look at women on the street in the same way as in spring.
I expect porn websites do brisk business in winter.
(I do gaze longingly at my wife in winter, of course, because I'm still stupid in love with her; and because my desire for my wife, this galaxy of needs, is a hell of lot more complex than the anyway-reductive notion of 'physical attraction.' But my lethargy and retreat and shame do bear directly on our relationship in other ways (see below).)
When the weather breaks I feel more confident, permit myself to look at other people with confidence, and my own confidence invests them with some new energy: I trust in (my perception of?) their beauty. Something like that. Maybe I just enjoy the pull. The force all living beings exert, myself included.
Cambridge is getting some stunningly nice weather at the moment. I'm reminded that a 'new look' for springtime isn't about your appearance, it's about literally looking anew at the human beings around you.
So this isn't actually about lust; lust is just an example of the feelings which I stop second-guessing when the sun comes out. One of the disorders I experience in winter is loss of trust. The sun returns, trust is restored, and I feel attractive -- attraction -- again. Gravity is symmetrical, duh.
...is watching the semifamous dude who banned you from commenting on his blog descend into alternately childish and crazy bullshit in his comment threads -- and realizing that just because he decided you were the bad guy doesn't mean you were actually the bad guy.
Brilliant post, though. Absolutely brilliant. But what a miserable buffoon.
(No, not linking. Sorry.)
Ever have that experience of listening to an album and realizing that you know the whole thing, all the way through, and have done so since you were eight years old or so? I'm having that experience right this instant with INXS's Kick, and being reminded in the process that the album is simultaneously (1) dead-simple and even 'unsophisticated,' and (2) basically a perfect pop album. I'd be a little embarrassed to play Kick right after Thriller or 1999 at a party, but that's just me and my anxieties, 'cause this is naked pleasure from first not to...
...oh my god 'Never Tear Us Apart' just came on, and since (notwithstanding the cheesiest sax solo ever recorded) we're close to the peak of Eighties pop here I'd better just stop typing and listen.
I first read the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books in elementary school, on my friend Scott’s recommendation. I think he’d heard about the books from his older brother Sean; over the few years of our friendship I got a lot of my cultural learnin’ from Scott/Sean. (Good stuff too: Depeche Mode, Zork, Talisman, the Avalon Hill Civilization, Paul Simon’s Graceland, early Chili Peppers…)
Over the years I reread the first three volumes of the increasingly inaccurately named Guide trilogy many, many times. (I read So Long and Thanks for All the Fish only twice, and Mostly Harmless just once, though I imagine I’d think more of its daddy-anxiety material now.) I also listened many, many, many, manymanymany times to a cassette of the Restaurant radio series – or rather, its LP rerelease, which abbreviates the radio show’s second storyline into an hourlong, headlong Magrathea > Milliway’s > sunship > B-Ark story of unusual-for-Adams structural cleanliness and utterly-typical-for-Adams comic density. The LP rerelease is actually a brand-new performance by the cast, from a revised version of the original radio scripts.
The performance is better by far than the original, with much stronger production, and I heartily recommend it to any DNA fan. For aforementioned personal reasons I’ll always consider it the definitive Restaurant recording, though like any right-thinking person I dearly love Zaphod’s trip to the Frogstar and Marvin’s duel to the death with the battle tank at Guide HQ, and have read those sections of the Restaurant novel more times than I can count.
God I love these stories.
God Gosh I miss Douglas Adams.
Anyhow I just want to make a quick point about the Hitchhiker’s Guide stories: the remarkable business of Adams’s fictional universe – its crowded urban vibe, the way Adams piles up incidental details through Guide entries and interpolated vignettes, always with a dead eye for his ongoing satirical project – invariably gives way, at peak narrative moments, to a powerful sparseness which not only serves his original narrative form (linked comic sketches for a handful of actors) but reflects Adams’s deeper concerns, which would find clearest expression in Last Chance to See.
Think of the moments of unexpected (but always totally earned) emotional seriousness and weight in the Guide trilogy: the songs of Krikkit, Ford’s look at the bartender near Arthur’s house, Marvin’s death, the factory floor on Magrathea, Ford and Arthur and the Scrabble pieces, Arthur and Fenchurch on the airplane’s wing, Arthur and Thor, Marvin’s hilariously sad monologue in the Milliway’s carpark (‘After that I went into a bit of a decline…’ is perfect), Zaphod on the Frogstar(!), and – of course – Zaphod, Trillian, and Zarniwoop visiting the man with the cat.
Almost without exception, they’re moments of stillness and isolation amidst a great deal of very effective background bustle. At these peak moments, the characters are afforded a sense of their own smallness, which less crushing than freeing – these are moments of taking responsibility. (The Total Perspective Vortex is a literalization of this two-sided revelation, though with Zaphod around you have to play for laffs, of course.) Indeed, one of the lovelier narrative arcs in the trilogy is Arthur’s slow journey from unhappy connectedness to melancholy contentment – learning to accept the immensity of the universe and his own essential aloneness in it. (By the end he’s done with all the other characters, isn’t he? Except Random, I suppose.)
The end of the Restaurant radio show has Ford and Arthur accepting, with characteristic good humour, the futility of trying to help prehistoric Earth’s cavemen: they’ve lost the evolutionary race, and humanity will evolve thereafter from the useless bloody loonies on the Golgafrincham B Ark, the telephone sanitizers and management executives and hairdressers and documentary filmmakers and insurance salesmen. The moderns. In one of the radio show’s deft little running gags, Ford relates a wild story (billiards this time); Arthur asks where he heard it, and Ford says it’s from the Guide. Arthur is totally underwhelmed. ‘Oh, that thing,’ I think he says. Nothing special. Just a travel book, after all, and the real human race is slowly, sadly wiped out all around them.
And Louis Armstrong sings ‘What a Wonderful World.’
Gets me every time. A moment of perfect love for all living things, turned sideways a bit, with a ‘comic’ story of planetary genocide nested within another ‘comic’ story of planetary genocide (and ecocide, per the colonists’ mad tree-burning deflationary fiscal policy), sung with a sigh rather than a belly laugh. Ultimately the Guide isn’t about hijinks in a crowded galaxy that’s a merciless riff on the awfulness of modern ‘civilized’ life – or not just that, anyway. Not really. Deep down it’s about escaping, not even into space, but into the feeling that space affords. The matter is distance, and smallness.
Our yellow sun is close enough, important enough, to beat down on us, to beam, to burn. A ball of angry light with no mystery to it. Other stars must be content to hide during the day and be (barely) visible only at night – and to us they seem like tiny pinpoints, formless. Kind of pathetic, really.
But they twinkle.
What a wonderful world.
Miss you Adams.
'Gender-neutral' parenting -- i.e. a posture and policy of nonintervention in a child's experiments with social roles -- is a reasonable practice, or set of practices; at the minimum it can serve as a counterweight to the pathological limitations on sex roles found in (American) adult society. I have no great problem with gender roles as such; insofar as they're social/cultural conventions which amplify sex-linked traits and behaviours, I feel I should act neutrally toward them too. And defend against any intrusion on what I see as best practices, of course -- even if I surrender in the end.
I have a replica WWII GI's map case in olive canvas with a stiff cardboard back; it's the most convenient shoulder bag I've ever had. I refer to it as my purse, and get the occasional strange look for doing so. But it's a pretty butch bag all the same. I take this as a very very very small example of acknowledging the usual boundaries, tweaking them a bit, and going about my business such that my own convenience and comfort are kept high, even if productivity remains at a minimum. I also acknowledge that I get a giggle out of calling it a purse -- but I also explain, more often than is necessary, the super-masculine origins of the bag. Perhaps this is overcompensation in two opposing directions: an unstable equilibrium. Well, I'm not perfect. You?
Sasha Laxton is a five-year-old male. His parents claim to have kept his sex secret for five years. Now he's entered school, and they've publicly revealed that 'he's a boy.'
“Stereotypes seem fundamentally stupid. Why would you want to slot people into boxes?” Laxton told her local news outlet, Cambridge News. “It affects what they wear and what they can play with, and that shapes the kind of person that they become.”
I'm sure Laxton has done a lot of thinking about the nature of her/their experiment. I don't wish to engage in amateur psychology. And I do understand the progressive passion for replacement gender norms which are more just, or perhaps just differently unjust, than the ones we've got going today. So I want to point out two small things:
Sasha dresses in clothes he likes -- be it a hand-me-downs from his sister or his brother. The big no-no's are hyper-masculine outfits like skull-print shirts and cargo pants. In one photo, sent to friends and family, Sasha's dressed in a shiny pink girl's swimsuit. "Children like sparkly things," says Beck. "And if someone thought Sasha was a girl because he was wearing a pink swimming costume, then what effect would that have?"
Good idea, bad idea, doesn't matter: whatever her experiment was meant to accomplish in the beginning, she's cocked it up. Sasha knows what 'hyper-masculine' clothes are -- 'skull-print shirts and cargo pants.' Which of course 'affects what [he wears] and what [he] can play with, and that shapes the kind of person that [he becomes.' His parents -- by all press accounts his mom -- gave him a totally run-of-the-mill gender stereotype as a reference point and said YOU MAY NOT BE THAT. Good choice, bad choice, doesn't matter: now the kid thinks 'avoiding stereotypes' means not wearing traditional boys' clothing.
The hypocrisy is important. The kid won't be five forever, and someday he'll learn about stereotypes and gender roles and the nature of sexual difference from someone other than his mom and dad. He'll still carry big lessons about the joy of not worrying whether you're doing what everyone else is -- but he'll also carry a lesson, bigger than it may seem at first, about choosing the right stereotypes to please the grownups who made him think he could choose freely...
So is she hoping that dressing Sasha in pink will change anything? “Yes. If it just made one person think: ‘No, I won’t put that frilly dress on her because it’s a bit silly’ or: ‘Yeah, if he really likes that doll, then that’s OK,’ then that would be really brilliant.
“All I want to do is make people think a bit.”
And will she mind if Sasha grows up to be a butch rugby player or, indeed, a hairdresser?
“I just want him to fulfil his potential, and I wouldn’t push him in any direction,” says Beck.
“As long as he has good relationships and good friends, then nothing else matters, does it? What’s more important than being happy, and making other people happy? It’s all that matters.” [my emphasis --wa]
Whatever sentiments Beck is trying to express, these quotes make me...uneasy, to say the very least. I hope you see why: the emphasis on (other) people 'think[ing] a bit,' the weird equation of not pushing a child with 'fulfilling his potential,' the silly idea that frilly dresses are themselves inherently silly -- like cargo pants and skull shirts, presumably, only Sasha seems to be encouraged to wear the dresses and forbidden from wearing the other stuff. (I'll note too that the not-so-faintly condescending tone of the interview just pisses me off.)
The interview isn't about Sasha, it's about Beck Laxton -- just as the furor over Amy Chua's frankly abusive parenting style (like her contemptibly self-serving bestselling account of it) was all about Amy Chua. Fine, fine, that's the media for you.
But consider: if Beck Laxton had taken any other approach to gender norms, and been this self-righteous about it, and given such incoherent justification to the press, and picked such weirdly specific issues to take a stand about ('ruched sleeves and scalloped collar?' seriously?), but not in the name of 'gender stereotypes' -- how would you receive the article? Would her politics be more interesting and important than, say, her hypocrisy?
That said: why is the media covering the story? Whose side are the news media always on?
Lost some steam here, sorry.
[An excerpt from my current big project, whence came also the Sasquatch thing a while back. Dedicated respectfully to A.R.R.R.R. Roberts, an obvious Bilbo Baggins manqué, who bears no resemblance to anyone in this piece, my hand to God, except in terms of one coincidental isophony -- and Englishness, of course. Oh, oh, dude's got Englishness coming out his ass.]
Collected worlds (complete with scholarly annotations) of authors famed for what the donnish corpse with the tobacco pipe called ‘subcreation’: chief among them Dandrel’s horrible but influential Helion trilogy (Apogee, Perigee, Anapsis). God I spent so many hours wishing I could live there. The interstellar-travel-by-giant-solar-trampoline conceit was more or less the cognitive soundtrack to my ages 13–15. Play and dissipation. So much wanting to believe that swashes would in the spacegoing future still be buckled, planks (airlocks, probably) nervously walked (or the equivalent) by those richly deserving of such mistreatment – or heroes sure suuuuuure c’mon c’mon! to make it Outta This Scrape in one piece. Back then there was this growing idea that outer space was at once a solved problem, ready to fade from dream to waking like a Christmas present turned out to be socks, and an increasingly distant/inaccessible bureaucratic zone, cowboys being replaced by factory farms, except the cowboys were never actually real, not in my lifetime anyhow. Machines all the way down. Nah. That tentative/reckless phase of early space exploration was done by the time I popped out. Or in, I guess.
So in order to get at the shared pre-Sputnik awe and aspiration of limitless space, indeed the recognition or belief that a place could still somewhere exist which was limitlessness itself, a dark principle, well ironically enough you had to turn back the clock a little. Big-time thing with kids all throughout history, probably: realizing first that time passes, then finding a way to escape into a new present which was the past’s future, today what shouldabeen. You dreamed of being an astronaut, but always as somebody’s angry libertarian writer grandpa had imagined it: the spacesuits less marshmallow, more race car; rocket ships like big sleek motorcycles, or just nuclear-powered flying cocks pretty much (because of course that – the implied parallel term, ahem – was the other forbidding limitless void to focus on, back then, after you’d learned that babies come from there but before you really internalized that holy shit babies really actually come from there; and maybe that’s the moment Cthulhu awakens?); laser guns actual guns, instead of…
Come to think of it, that was the worst part. The further along time went, the harder it was to convince ourselves that we’d be able to defend against whatever Inevitable Menace might rear up out of the frigid wastes to, not eat us probably, but digest, or cognitively-scramble, madden, suffocate, poison, freeze, unmake us…the way grief manifested in those days was I was never going to geta laser gun because by that point it’d be utterly pointless. You didn’t need one to deal with your fellow man, and even low-slung hip-holstered laser pistols (such as F.R. Dandrel’s interplanetary gunslinger Tubby Crozan might wear) would be no match for bacteria that turned flesh to slime, or movies so entertaining that to look at them was to will yourself suddenly toward death by consumption (by consuming – just looking into the staticky whatever it was supposed to be, forever). Fuck grownup literature. And fuck the Department of the Galactic Interior or whatever for spending all its astronaut time making minute adjustments to the lenses of telescopes, as if slightly clearer pictures of nebulae were some kind of substitute for the immensity, impersonality, the divinity of the frontier. It was UN-AMERICAN.
Tubby Crozan comes in for it hard in the footnotes, is one of the additional childhood-beshittenings awaiting the grownup SF fan here. The greatest of all mechanical-engineers–9th-class-turned-pistol-packing-mercenaries, the first man to make a solar trampoline jump in just a suit (not even a ship! the unmitigated gall, the titanic fucking balls on that guy!)…and all editor Avram U.N. Robers wants to talk about is ‘Crozan, a too-obvious Heinlein manqué, comes close at times but never quite breaks with the dreary juvenile misogyny of his author, not to mention his thinly-veiled SFnal homage-referent; the lasting popularity of the Helion cycle is testament to the guilelessness and vivacity of Dandrel’s prose and his just-left-of-the-familiar plotting rather than any psychological insight. Like C.S. Leavis’s Hornea books, Dandrel’s novels grow more difficult to like as their readers grow older; though perhaps – like reactionary family members sinking into familiar, almost comforting gesture, thereby losing their power to wound – for the very same reason they grow easier to love.’
Robers won an award for the annotated edition, not a big deal award but enough to feel good about being, at death’s door, a SF scholar of all things; and it’s hard to separate gratitude for his hard, revelatory biographical work (Dandrel collected butterflies but refused to kill them, adding them to his library only after they’d died natural deaths in captivity?!) from frustration at the characteristically British is-it-really-ironic-after-all-these-centuries snippy melancholy which pervades his scholarly work. Robers (an obvious Franklin C. Kitzis manqué if you must know) deserves his reputation, though perhaps we can with a wink-n-nudge admit to one another, right here and now, that that’s not meant solely as a compliment. Fa!
Oh, shit. Damn. That felt good. I can’t tell you how much I hate Frank Kitzis. And no, it’s not because he dated one of my grad school professors for a while and was cheating on her either before, during, or after the worst of all time guest lecture he gave in our SF-and-feminism class, which I think he actually had the stones to call ‘Criminal, Liminal, Subliminal: something something something Rosetti something something rape.’ I liked that class well enough for most of its run, but maybe it’s testament to every thinking human being’s overall feelings about grad school in the humanities – so long, fuckers – that that really is all I can remember of the talk’s title. And nothing whatsoever of the content. Kitzis had fashion hair, you know? The kind you’re supposed to look at and maybe notice without recognizing outwardly that you’re noticing it, like Wow that guy’s got Cool hair, it’s just messy, but then it’s only hours later you’re supposed to realize that he must’ve spent ten minutes and five dollars in product (people just call it ‘product’ now) to get his hair into that ‘artful’ dishevelment, only my curse – talk about First World Problems so to speak! – is that I always notice the time/’product’ costs of hairstyles right in the moment. Right there in that instant. Or like how someone’s courier bag is brand new but he’s walking around like he’s King Hardcore Biker of Bikerville, complete with the clip-in shoes and everything, but also brand-new sunglasses that he takes off super carefully because while he wants you to think he doesn’t care about the money, He cares. About. The Money. Wouldn’t you? That’s why they call it money.
Or how all the pronouns are ‘he’ and all the metaphors are balls this and stones that, and there’s some racism maybe, plus weird nationalism? And who actually thinks it’s awesome that spaceships look like dicks? I notice that stuff too. But since they severed my corpus callosum in the course of an otherwise routine cranial probe, prefatory to my first Saturn trip (boooooooring!), even when I see my worst impulses as if secondhand, even in moments of what pre-AI cultures called ‘self-awareness,’ I’m powerless to prevent such heedless action.
And you know what?
‘I’m a man,’ Crozan said, and aimed the laser blaster at Freia’s heart. ‘You’re a monster,’ she replied. Her eyes were defiant but she shrank back. Crozan laughed then. ‘A distinction without a difference, Your Highness.’ He pulled the trigger, and as warm blood splashed his handsome face – her blood, his lover’s blood, royal blood – he found that he could not stop laughing. He laughed and laughed, and in his triumph he grew larger, and darker, and more joyful…
I’m a monster.
[Wrote this a while back. Deleted names and links; the post's point isn't ultimately about the specific writer in question.]
A fella whose best writing I continue to greatly value reviews a gamebook:
I'll admit that I was quite prepared to dislike [this book]. Being a big fan of Westerns, I tend to be more than a little snobby about the way the genre is so often misused and caricatured, especially in crossovers with other genres. And while a post-apocalyptic setting is a very good fit for Western themes and esthetics, I was nevertheless apprehensive. I've seen too many poorly executed Western-influenced creations not to assume the worst.
I see and SAY this kind of bullshit all the time, and it deserves to be called out. This is childish nonsense and he should be embarrassed by it.
Snobbery about Westerns has nothing whatsoever to do with Westerns. It happens because you are (or in this case, because the writer is) a snob.
This stance is willfully ignorant because he cares about the 'correct' way of doing a genre, and anyone with a basic understanding of how literary genre works knows that this brand of ignorance springs from private anxieties rather than the text-system itself, but he's smart enough and educated enough to know that -- to know better;
It's self-regarding, because he spends breath preemptively defending what is a totally personal, idiosyncratic, indeed possessive feeling about 'Westerns,' which is a matter of ego rather than critical analysis;
Reactionary because he's railed time and time again about 'revisionist' understanding of 'classic' texts -- his particular hobbyhorse is interpretive deviation from the letter and spirit of the original Dungeons & Dragons rules and, weirdly, Gary Gygax's private intentions -- and because, in this particular case, he's also an unabashed cultural reactionary, expressing next to nothing but contempt for 'new-fangled' cultural texts. (re: Westerns, he is particularly bothered by Firefly -- you can probably guess why.) Preserving the past for the future is not the same thing as fetishizing pastness.
Throw in some acute status-consciousness -- he was a young nerd apparently raised, if his religious callouts and bits of churchly Latin are any indication, in a hierarchical cultural environment -- and you've got some pretty conventional snobbery in a man old enough to know better.
Millions of people enjoy Westerns without feeling the need to apply private criteria to determine whether they're WESTERN ENOUGH. These people have a healthy relationship to the pleasure of viewing/reading these stories, even if they persist in ignorance about the history and source texts of the genre. Ignorance isn't much of a sin. Willful ignorance is.
I'm a snob about plenty of things, and I HATE IT. It is a failing to be addressed -- to grow out of.
One of the many differences between him and me is that I don't try to pass off my snobbery as an inevitable result of really really caring about things. It's pure ego, I know just enough to know it (arguably nothing more!), and I wish to be able to overcome that adolescent insecurity. If you go into a reading/viewing experience expecting -- i.e. WANTING -- to hate it, in order that your prejudices will be confirmed, you and you alone have fucked yourself up.
This writer isn't an idiot -- quite the contrary, he's a damned fine writer when he surpasses himself. But snobbery is a problem, maybe one of his biggest problems as a critic, and it saddens me (and pisses me off) to see it. His fans and regular readers don't mind, of course -- and that's an even bigger problem, which presumably no one needs me to explain.
Pain of the past in its pastness. Today I'm thinking about...I don't know what. Nothing really. In the car with Feliks sleeping in the backseat and inside the apartment (a few feet away) Agi and the organizer lady, Erin, just a couple years out of college, are getting the place ready for deleading. I miss my parents. My mom is nine years dead. My dad is old, alive, warm, slowing down, far away, a good man I've never known quite how to emulate. He feels in a language I don't know. Mystery to me since I was young though I've long known I was meant (meant!) to come up like him, good and strong and sure. A straight-backed man bent only by time and care. He hasn't lied or wormed his way around, ever. Nothing to hide. He is a good man and I worry that we've never understood each other; or not worry: I mourn. Early to be mourning. He is a living man and good and true, wants nothing but love for his sons. But I fall into the solecism -- or I mean solipsism, I guess -- of mourning.
Meanwhile we're all sick. I feel old. But small and young -- old, I mean, before my time, unearned. Which is to say weak. I mean I'm sorry I've never undertaken to make myself into the strong straightforward man I was to have been. Wheels spinning against inner wheels. I have to go indirect to get to things. To what I think I want (am 'meant') to say.
I got a fine education but I suppose it's done now, in the formal sense. Though learning continues thank god. My brother asked me, back in middle school or high school, to exchange books with him. I suggested 'Dune' and he gave me 'A Tale of Two Cities.' More than 15 years ago. And I never did read it. Never did read a single word of Dickens in my whole life.
All the ways I've hidden from my family. Meeting them always far less than halfway.
Hitchens died at the Anderson center in Houston. My mom went there for examinations when she first found out -- was finding out? was living with the discovery that? -- she had cancer. Today we go to a bed & breakfast up the street where we'll stay for a few days. Then to see my in-laws near Denver. The apartment will be full of poison dust for a few days. I wrote maybe 47,000 words worth of a new manuscript in November. I had to stop writing just before the 30th, and haven't taken it up since.
I'm never able to talk about my family, or death, or my friends, or even just time's passage, without talking too about writing.
It is not my job, I realize. It's how I think. Wasn't always but there you have it.
I don't know what I did before I wrote.
I might have a job for spring semester after all. Then we'll be able to afford day care for Feliks. I'm unusually well-suited to this job and would be happy to have it. All the more reason for things not to work out: I haven't earned that kind of happiness, have I? It's a 'writing job': actually, I'd be teaching writing to bright technically-minded college students. Almost a dream.
I am preoccupied with the people I've been.
I never say 'men.'
Well what sort of man am I. Sitting here in the car sickly, my boy is sleeping in the backseat. I don't know that I respect myself. I used to piss in the kitchen sink so as not to wake our son walking up the stairs. After a while it stopped being a problem -- walking noise I mean -- but I took a while longer to stop pissing in the sink. I'd gotten used to it. So much easier than going all the way to the bathroom upstairs. Now we live in a one-story apartment and the floor outside the bedroom is squeaky all over again, but I've unlearned my shortcut. I thought of it as generous. But I walk on by him now and feel civilized pissing in the toilet. I didn't used to think of it as any big thing. Maybe that's a small win. For me, I guess? Or Western civilization?
I quite like it, you know. The West. Absolutely devastating to authentic self-knowledge, but it's alright.
This week my brother finally disposed of a gigantic sombrero he bought in Texas. He took a long train trip with my mom. I was in college, or maybe grad school. Perhaps they were going to the Anderson center even then. Maybe she was given a schedule at that time, pertaining to the order in which her internal organs would be crippled and destroyed by cancer. First your DNA turns against you, as I understand it, babbling in a new language, mutated -- apoptosis undone too -- so that the logomaniacal babble can no longer be stopped even by death; and your immortal cells band together and grow into a tight-knit community which eats you. Maybe they put the schedule on a nicely-formatted spreadsheet for my mom to peruse while she died by degrees. Your colon, charmingly, to begin; and later on your lungs. Quiet your beautiful voice and steal your cultured appetite. All your learning. No sleep and no rest. Forget how to read. Here is a sombrero for your boy to wear at the train station while carrying all the suitcases. He looks so small surrounded by those bags and you will die long before your time.
Your eldest son will not watch every moment of your collapse and disintegration because he will be 'living it up' in Boston. Too far to quickly drive. Please do not again ask what he plans to do with his graduate degree in video games. He will later fly home on a 'bereavement fare,' though, saving a substantial amount of money on that one-way plane ticket. The world revolves around a dying star. He isn't thrifty but he's not the fool he seems. He'll know he's failed.
If I could only tell you how much I hate myself for not being part of my mom's last years on earth, for not working to preserve and restore and join our shared family body. If I could quiet down long enough to breathe in simple facts like All Things Pass.
The first time I meditated I nearly cried at the realization that I wasn't alone in the office building where I sat. Think of that so tiny thing. That it could mean so much to a man. Not to be alone in a city of millions!
I could be a better friend to my brother. Really I could. We disagree on so much. I told him to 'piss off' two days ago on the phone and he hung up on me. No talking since.
I guess I'm saying this to him. Hello Come back. Or to her, I guess. Come back hello I love you in spite of myself.
I’m an unapologetic Fall ’97 booster, fanboy, partisan, evangelist, and myopic egotist – i.e. I insist that Fall ’97 is the best of all Phish tours, partly because it’s my favourite…though I also insist that it’s my favourite because it’s the best (see above re: ‘myopia’ and ‘egotism’).
But some things are worth going crazy over.
(The following is occasioned, of course, by the long-awaited official SBD release of November 21 to 23, 1997.)
The fandom responded ecstatically to the tour at the time, as you’d expect; among other things it represented a sea change in how the band approached show structure (never mind the pornographic music itself) – some folks were convinced that ‘there [were] no first sets anymore,’ and given that this show kicks off with a 20-minute funk workout, it’s easy to see why. Time has been kind to the tour as well. With the benefit of hindsight we can see how Fall ’97 began a darkly generative period for the band (their imaginative freedom nightblooming even as their technical command and professionalism began to falter amidst a rapidly decaying backstage/fan scene), while representing a historic peak of possibility and intensity. With only a couple of exceptions, the band was just absolutely there every single night, taking song after song to deep dangerous places.
It was a good time to be a Phish fan.
The best jams of 2011 – R’n’R at the Gorge, the Tahoe Light, the brilliant ‘elements’ set at UIC – seemed to draw some of the same dark energy that powered Phish’s late 90s music: layered textures, intricate polyrhythms, effortless group interplay, soaring ambient passages, guitars put to unholy new uses, keyboards much abused, drums caressed and then shattered. Above all, the music flows now almost as it did then, with extraordinary patience and organic inevitability.
But what’s missing from Phish 2011 is the black ice that became their premillennial music’s center: cool austerity of early ‘cow funk,’ anxious chaotic ‘space jams,’ the scary quality it had. (Hear the way Izabella comes roaring out of 12/6/97’s fog like an angry undead stowaway, or the teeth-gnashing mania of the Hartford Char0 > 2001. A lotta Hendrix in the air, then.)
For all the expansiveness and ambition of the band’s Fall ’97 work, the tour feels All of a Piece; it all belongs together, the maniacal Hampton/Winston-Salem stuff and the knives-in-blacklight Worcester jamming and the retro-dufus-turned-pornstar goodtimes in Dayton and the astral lullabies in Utah and, and, and oh those sorcerous goings-on and splashings-crashward in Auburn Hills (cloudpiercing peak of a deepwater volcanic island). The same can’t so much be said of the new music; ironically, as the band’s palette has grown to include more lived-in sounds (and whatever eerily the goddamn ‘storage shed’ jamming is, when it eerily ever is), they’ve lost the glasseyed focus of back-in-the-day. They might sound like any number of great bands these days, even Zeppelin a bit when the moon’s right, but there was something harrowing and deeply pleasurable about knowing (walking into a familiar room, strangers at close quarters in the dark) that the approach was gonna be, ready set go, THE METERS AND PINK FLOYD ARE TRAPPED TOGETHER FOREVER ON A DERELICT SPACESHIP ALL ECHOES AND GHOSTS AND ALONE AND THEY ARE SAVED FROM COLD DEATH ONLY BY THE WEIRD COSMIC FAVOUR OF PLUNGING SLOWLY INTO AN OCTARINE SUN, GAINING SPEED, FALLING, HOLD ON…
To the matter at hand.
Emotional Rescue isn’t a great choice of cover beyond its novelty/comedy value – the jokey falsetto and sparse texture wear thin some time before the jam starts – and the jam does feel like a show-opening warmup, which of course it is. But 17 minutes of shambolic Phish funk (climaxing in a transitional few minutes of lovely dark ambience) is a fine easygoing thing, regardless. And it leads into a very nice Split, for which we supplicants are naturally thankful.
Et cetera et cetera, and Caspian (a tune tailor-made for smoky indoor-venue AUDs, by the way) is a strange but appropriate choice for a first set closer: excellent version here, particularly Trey’s digital-delay offering to Hades in lieu of those closing rock chords from the album, which…
The show’s back half kicks off seven consecutive must-hear sets (next breather: 11/28 I). During Ghost the players bail on that song’s basic funk patterns in favour of a haunting spare passage typical of Fall ’97: minimalist assembly, assured group rhythm work, and a patient crescendo and sighing wavebreak into a wry, spry midtempo jog at the outro. 1997 is THE year for Ghost, but this performance trades its standard snap/pop/wah funk for something moodier and more meaningful.
Then yeah, a true segue arrow before AC/DC Bag, and get ready for this Bag. Less decisive and authoritative than the canonical 12/30/97 version, but also less linear, the 11/21 Bag takes a few minutes for somewhat clumsy I-IV thrashing (a climax too early, it seems) before settling into a deadly take on the introductory PYITE groove. Fishman slides over to the ride cymbal, Page leaps onto piano, Trey sprinkles some space-jam fairy dust over everyone, and suddenly we’re working a slightly ambivalent variation on that I-IV, posing as Triumph while whispering Collapse, Dissolve…and after a twinkling ambient passage, we return to ambivalence: minor-melancholy rock clatter and swerve, Page’s piano diagonals zagging at everyone else’s zig, or I guess vice versa. 25 minutes of top-shelf Phish, and another true segue into Slave.
Slave, as you’d expect after the foregoing 50 minutes of music, is devastating. Well, it’s a 1997 Slave; the mycological languour of late–90s Phish was well suited to tunes like this one.
More Stones to close, of course. They’ve always killed on Loving Cup. And is there a better, more coherent long-form composition in Phish’s catalogue than Guyute? Pure prog mayhem in the encore. Nice.
11/22 gets the press, 11/23 gets the ‘underrated masterpiece’ tag, and of these now-forever-conjoined triplets, 11/21 is the li’l sibling with – hey whaddaya know – some earth-shaking powers of its own. I think you can pass on this first set without feeling TOO bad, if you really don’t think you can spare that hour of your life, but that’s a swell half-hour you’re missing at the opener, and a ringading Caspian to close. The second set, meanwhile, is as good as Fall 1997’s usual, which is to say it’s a solid hour of deadly focused improvisation, favouring eventide melancholy and dissolution, crescendi desperately imploding or exhausting themselves in gouts of terminal noise, minimalist funk with a mischievous dancing step and slow poison on its blade, visible in the right kind of dark…
Ego-costumes aside, in the end it doesn’t matter whether Fall ’97 is the ‘best’ Phish tour. (One hopes the best is yet to come, right? What kind of person doesn’t hold that hope, or pretends not to?) Those are fun arguments to have, but it’s all just circles around imaginary selves, signs that read No Trespass: there’s no place for borders like those when the music begins. I’ll say instead, quite confidently, that on these nights 14 years ago, Phish reached the windblown jagged top of one peak, bringing thousands along with them; several other peaks would follow, as several had come before, but this one had a Weird light, and everyone why got up there saw something extraordinary. And would you believe it: it’s still there. Might I recommend heading up alone some night. Go on: follow the strange glow that won’t fade. The dark will keep you warm.
My name is Wally. I generally post online as Wax Banks. It is a college nickname.
I am 32 years old. I live in Cambridge. I have been married for three+ years.
My full-time job is taking care of our son. He is a toddler.
Prior to shifting to full-time parenthood, I was a writer, editor, and occasional teacher and tutor.
I write. Many of my developed skills are writing-related. Since I finished graduate school I have produced a very large, very scattered body of work, which I sometimes forget to think of as 'work.' But it is that, and I am proud of some of the products and much of the process.
I have written essays, short stories, novels, screenplays, novel-length mock self-help books, monstrous collections of intertwined short fictions, and of course 'blog posts' - the latter a category large enough to encompass almost all the others, though I usually stick to essayish bits here.
When I have been able to commit myself to it I have preferred to spend all day writing, but that is of course impossible at present. I have been partly successful at overcoming my resentments about enormous changes that parenthood has made in my life. Being a father is the best, the happiest, the hardest thing I have ever done, and the joy it brings me far outweighs the frustration I feel at not being able to focus on writing.
Though I have not been paid for writing or editing since last year, I still tend to think of myself as 'writing for a living,' and I hope to return to making money with my work in the near future.
I am a father, a husband, and a writer, in that order. I am happy with this state of things; it is a conversation.
the bartender here is a hipster with two blonde pippi-longstocking pigtails. yay? the female employees here are refreshing real - zaftig, a little unkempt, with normal-sized everything and none of the obtrusive done-up magazine sexuality of, say, the affectless mannequins who work at Whiskey's.
wow. a woman just gave me That Look. wow. i confess to being surprised and gladdened. cute too. and she was leaving with two jocks. i win, i guess.
oh, but an elderly man just looked at me the same way. do i have something on my face?
Part of a sequence of four portraits of earthly authority (priestess/empress/emperor/hierophant), the Empress sits in a field of golden stalks in a flower-print robe on a pillowed settee, a flowing stream behind. Clad in white upon red velvet, ready for the alchemical wedding with the red-robed white-bearded Emperor. She's even got a heart-shaped stone bearing the symbol of Venus, for heaven's sake. Any rube can read this one: fertility, sensuality, feminine languor, all that jazz.
The Waite-Smith deck has her slender and fair, crowned with stars (her tiara overgrown too with flowering plants?). Along with the Emperor she forms the inner, secular pair of the four-card portrait run, both of them trumped by the Pope/Hierophant. So far so canonically early-20C mythohistorical.
Modern renderings often take the fertility symbolism further along toward literalism, by necessity - the average city-dwelling tarot reader/querent probably hasn't set foot in a wheat field in years, never mind mulled over the seasonal/menstrual symbolic parallel. So you get pregnant Goddess types with flowing hair and garlands of flowers, or nursing mothers looking out of the card with bizarrely come-hither looks. ('Baby' translates directly to 'control' in microcultures where motherhood is the only way to get male respect on female terms.)
Aleister Crowley's Book of Thoth, meanwhile, glosses Frieda Harris's gorgeous watercolour art like this:
With regard to the Pelican, its full symbolism is only available to Initiates of the Fifth degree of the O.T.O. In general terms, the meaning may be suggested by identifying the Pelican herself with the Great Mother and her offspring, with the Daughter in the formula of Tetragrammaton. It is because the daughter is the daughter of her mother that she can be raised to her throne. In other language, there is a continuity of life, an inheritance of blood, which binds all forms of Nature together. There is no break between light and darkness. Natura non facit saltum. If these considerations were fully understood, it would become possible to reconcile the Quantum theory with the Electro-magnetic equations.
There are many, many, many ways in which I want to be nothing at all like Aleister Crowley. But when he gets going, prosewise, no one can touch him. The archetypal occultist, in some ways, trading his sense for visionary poetry, then whirling his way back through ironic self-awareness to something mirroring sense, darkened and distorted.
Anyhow the Book of Thoth is a load of bollocks, but what a read. Alas, no one's putting out new work in Crowley's mode anymore. The language of Tarot-interpretation (and -extrapolation or -narrativization) is, like most 'spiritual' writing, more straightforwardly autobiographical now; 'psychology' has been absorbed into our pop-thought idioms while the various esoteric/mystical traditions have been passively, and in some cases actively, put aside. There are plenty of Magical Thinking brotherhoods - ever been to a political convention, or hung out with hardcore sports fans? - but the fetish for systematization and taxonomy, for encyclopedic knowledge-gathering and -correlation, has largely passed.
You can have the Book of Thoth or Google, but not both. Even if Google just links you to the monomaniacs, the Browsing and Delving urges are distinct - i.e. you can only take pleasure-as-an-end from one of those activities at a time, I think, and if Google is always everywhere, well...
Part of the appeal of the Waite-Smith deck, for me, is the lovely simplicity of the art. The faces resemble those of standard-deck court cards, the proportions straight out of classical statuary, the colours unnaturally simple. (Some say 'garish'; I say 'faintly otherworldly,' and recall a certain lyric about 'the sky was yellow / and the sun was blue'...) Other decks have more technically accomplished art, to be sure, but tarot artists seem to be unusually prone to zealous overreach; there's a lot of stuff in the average tarot card. This is a well-intentioned pain, the idea being to give the reader lots of material to work with, but the end result being visual clutter, which affects the experience directly at its point of initiation.
Rule one of visual art: get the visuals right!
I actually prefer Smith's pip cards (non-trumps), which tend to be more austere and less worked-over, to her beautiful but comparatively busy Major Arcana. The 'mood' of the Waite-Smith deck speaks to me.
Oh, I just remembered why.
I bought my Waite-Smith deck at a store called 'Bell Book and Candle' in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1993 or so, hanging out one afternoon with an unbearably beautiful girl whom I'd met at the National Spelling Bee. (Many nice friendship stories begin this way, with a great beauty and a Caribbean island and the Spelling Bee, but in the history of mankind not a single sexy story has included the words 'Spelling Bee.')
I recognized the bell/book/candle symbolism from one of the Zork games. I never did get the hang of tarot reading. It didn't accomplish anything for me so I put the deck aside, lost the book I'd bought with it, and only pulled the cards out again in 2003, while teaching at Tufts. I'd discovered the brilliant tarot-themed 1987 puzzle game, The Fool's Errand, whose villain (I'm reminded) was the High Priestess. There was something about the image of a happy-go-lucky rube wandering alone in a world of strange but solvable puzzles that appealed to me. Go figure.
I went for the cards again a few years later, after picking up a copy of the startling, darkly inspiring urban-fantastic Deviant Moon deck as writerly inspiration. I preferred the Deviant Moon deck to the Waite-Smith, as a visual art object, but the old deck still struck me as complete in a sense. You might describe the difference this way: the Deviant Moon deck, brilliant as it is, looks like a concerted attempt to capture a coherent aesthetic, a little steampunkish, dark, surreal, co-opting Odd(tm) imagery (like old headstones and asylum chimneys).
The Waite-Smith deck looks like someone's travel notebook of another universe, complete unto itself, not even Strange on its own terms...and haunted. Melancholy. Quiet.
That quiet always sang to me; I realized recently that I stayed away from the cards not because they were boring, but because their seeming inactivity was precisely what unnerved me about them. An eldritch quality - like British medieval folksongs about frolicking on the heath, which turn out to be about the Black Death.
Pastoral disquiet. That's it.
The Waite-Smith Empress isn't disquieting though. She just looks bored. Because the Major Arcana don't erupt into magical oddity and celestial glory until about the halfway point, the Empress just has to sit there are symbolize, basically, herself. Even Waite sounds bored in the Pictorial Key:
She is above all things universal fecundity and the outer sense of the Word. This is obvious, because there is no direct message which has been given to man like that which is borne by woman; but she does not herself carry its interpretation.
Maybe if the weather was nicer today I'd be more...up. Though I can blame the Waite-Smith cards for that too: even their sun doesn't really look sunny! Talk about melancholy, half the Waite-Smith figures look like they're trying to go about their business and remembering that a close friend died last month.
I never did get in touch with her after that, nor her with me. I'd have to look up her name, even.
And you know what? It wasn't the Spelling Bee where we met, and it wasn't 1993. It was 1995 and we met in Baltimore, her name was...Christ, was it Annalicia? Did I wear shorts and feign confidence? Did she laugh about me on the phone with her friends afterward, or never mention me again?
And yet I'm absolutely certain of the name of the occult store, Bell Book & Candle. It's still there. Lonely Planet says it 'pulls in the vacation crowd.'
The Empress doesn't care one way or the other what's going on, and the Emperor looks pissed off. Yeah, that's pretty much how I remember it.
Specifically, would you like to buy a book of my writing, most of it new-to-all, pretty much right away?
EVEN MORE SPECIFICALLY, would you like to send me $12 for a right'n'proper locally-printed copy of THIS BOOK?
YES: That is Falsehoods, Concerns by yours truly. YES!
The book contains the following
220 180 pages of PURE 100% MAGIQUE:
Hey, I'll ship you a copy anywhere in the U.S. for $12. Multiple copies, internat'l shipping, that sort of thing - we'll figure something out.
My address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Drop a line and we will make this happen to your mind; once I've got a sense for the number of copies we'll need, I'll email you with info on PAYOLA and SHIPPING-OLA.
Tell your friends! They stand to benefit most from this kind of brain-rearranging wisdom/nonsense.
Thinking about (but not listening to) Vampire Weekend this morning, for some reason. The memory of the idea of their music playing in a club; or else the idea of the memory. Creepy: all those 30-year-old hipsters dancing to knockoff Afro-pop made by 18-year-old prep schoolers. Maybe the whole point of forming the band was So The Older Kids Will Like Us. But then when did a 30-year-old turn into a kid? Thinking back, I wonder (conversely) when I turned into an adult. My instinct is to say 'When we decided to have a baby,' or 'When we got married.' But shouldn't the answer be 'When I went off to college on my own' or thereabouts? I seemingly spent my 20's fucking and attending funerals; isn't that 'grownup stuff'?
Trying to synthesize years' worth of data regarding a particular observation: I rarely see well-off folks walking down the street yelling into phones or at other people on the street. What I take to be 'working-class types,' though, it happens all the time. Heavyset women in tracksuits with penciled-on eyebrows and heavily hairsprayed bangs telling their boyfriends DON'T CALL ME AGAIN I HATE YOU I'LL CALL YOU over cheapass cell phones.
Did I say 'types'? Do I say that? I do.
My baby is up and crawling about, throwing his rattle-blocks on the ground. His version of 'throwing' does not inspire Major League dreams. Not that I'd ever actually have those. He can be a doctor instead if he wants.
Tell me a story.
In this century, and moment, of mania,
Tell me a story.
Make it a story of great distances, and starlight.
The name of the story will be Time,
But you must not pronounce its name.
Tell me a story of deep delight.
--Robert Penn Warren, 'Audubon: A Vision'
A piece of 'flash fiction,' whatever that could possibly mean, by a certain Mr Wax Banks IF you can even believe sane parents would ever name their child that, appears in the premiere issue (congrats and yay!) of Fiction Brigade which is RIGHT HERE. Please have a look, and enjoy!
'What a grotesque, cliched title this post has, WB.'
No he wouldn't. He'd say I don't need to make a grand gesture of 'ending it all' etc., @toading myself or what have you. He'd say, Do what you can and try new things, but don't make it about the gesture. Just, y'know, pick a thing and do it right. Even (especially) a small thing.
MUSIC: Instead of downloading music to order, I wish I trusted the radio more. I wish I listened to less Phish, and more stuff I've never heard before.
BOOKS: I desperately want to read more books cover to cover, and to take more chances on new things. In the immediate future I want to finish The Man in the High Castle and Fairyland, then get on with reading Aegypt for heaven's sake.
MOVIES: I haven't watched one in ages. There isn't really time. But I wish I watched great films again.
FRIENDS: Not to be seized by anxiety at the thought of writing even a short email to a friend. I would like to write to my friends all the time. To be close that way, trusting, trusted. To reach out unself-consciously. A couple of letters a week, maybe. Maybe even by hand, but let's be realistic: typing would be nice too. There's even a letter class in LaTeX! OH MAN A LETTER CLASS!
FAMILY: Better in every way.
WRITING: It hurts too much to say.
Some dude spent some time 'yelling' at me in ALL-CAPS ON PHISH.NET BECAUSE I M IGNORANT, etc., etc., and now he's been banned from the site or something - which I had nothing to do with - and his rants about it at Phantasy Tour, announcing his desire to do me physical harm, have also been deleted by the moderators there.
This is why I want nothing to do with the Internet. As hard a time as I have maintaining decent humanity in online exchanges, some other people have it worse. And it's easy to shoot the mouth off.
Increasingly tempted to take down my blog, withdraw from every site I'm a member of, and just focus on physical things for, hmm, three years or so.
Maybe that's my problem: the fandoms I belong to one way or the other (left-leaning politics, Phish, Joss Whedon, 'literature' broadly construed) all annoy me. As does the world of roleplaying games. And arguing in blog comments.
Getting into a stupid pissing match on phish.net has ruined my day. I keep having to remind myself that hundreds or thousands of readers do not hold the same personal animus toward me as the loud trolls and breast-beaters. Ugh.
Oh, and PROGRESSIVE PARENTING. Goddamn wasteland!
I need a vacation. Maybe just from the Internet, until we move house during the first week of September?
it takes these words ten minutes to reach you
a million miles away
longer still when you were in my arms
dear, that's why today
feels much like yesterday
and of course
oh, row, the sailor sings
of polycarbon starship wings
oh, row, the solar winds
carry me across the galaxy
now i'm going nowhere
but there's nowhere else that i would rather be
That sort of thing.
Meanwhile my wife catches up on sleep just offstage, which she desperately needs because as hard as I feel like I work, she works ten times harder, dies a thousand times when our son cries, is lifted up and lifts me up with each stumbling advance or strange detour he takes. She is the molten core; she's his light, and mine.
I don't get along with people online, and that's the plain fact. It's taken me a while to be matter-of-fact about it, but there it is. I spent a bunch of time discussing the situation in therapy a couple years ago, but never did arrive at a satisfactory solution.
OK. The the problem goes deeper than incivility.
The summer after 10th grade (1995) I spent five weeks at Johns Hopkins, taking classes in the Pre-College Program. (It's different from the well-known precocious-child program, CTY.) I got my first C (in a stultifying molecular biology lecture) and worked hard to get a life-changing A (in a small, prescient 'Explorations in Text-Based Virtual Reality' humanities seminar). Both grades were portents, but I didn't understand them.
The focus of the seminar was MUD/MOO/MUSH culture - 'A Rape in Cyberspace,' Barlow's 'Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace,' Neuromancer, some Bukatman, some Dery, that kind of thing. One of the requirements was to spend a bunch of time exploring the Diversity University MOO (moo.du.org:8888). I did. I also signed up for LambdaMOO (lambda.moo.mud.org:8888).
I'd never used the Internet before.
Some days I would get up, read the Millennium Whole Earth Catalog or my newly-purchased Principia Discordia for a while, then head over to the computer lab for a 12-hour stint in Lambda. I missed meals. I even missed class (see above re: 'my first C'). Tuition for the program came to $3,600 for five weeks. My dad mowed lawns to raise a few hundred dollars. A wonderful man in my hometown lent us the balance of the tuition and it took us a long while to pay him back; or else we never did.
I got some sun but not as much as I needed. I fell hard for a girl in the next dorm, who didn't notice me. Then I fell for someone with the username 'Sirena,' and that's one of the weirdest stories of my whole life, I think.
I learned to 'speak in public' on LambdaMOO but I learned plenty of other things as well; and I came to rely on it. When I went home at summer's end I felt totally disconnected from my hometown. I told myself and my family and even my couple of close friends that I just missed Baltimore, had a great time 'at college,' had never been around people who shared so many of my interests, just needed a little time to adjust. Junior year ahead, yay. That kind of thing. All of which was true, I suppose -
- but it occurs to me today, for the very first time, that as much as I missed the people and the school and the freedom, I was also going through withdrawal from the online world where my new self was being born. I mean that literally.
The term we're looking for is addiction, of course, more specifically a form of 'Internet addiction,' which in the late 90's was a subject of no small concern in the press and in academia.
You never hear about it now. Once everyone does some activity all day every day it's not an addiction, it's just 'part of life.' Like TV, or worrying about work, or hating the government.
I check my email several dozen times a day, yet I fail to respond in a timely fashion to friends and acquaintances. I may in fact be the worst correspondent I know. Yet I don't immediately forget about the 'need to respond': indeed, waves of anxiety about my Inbox full of unanswered emails continue to ripple for weeks and weeks. I am never, ever free of anxiety about these communications - but I avoid responding.
I've destroyed friendships - and strained family relationships - this way.
When I have spare time, I read websites and occasionally comment on them. Sometimes I do this even when I don't have spare time. Altogether I spend hours (hours!) a day looking at webpages and retaining almost nothing. I take no great pleasure from this activity. Indeed it has the dry sterility of pure compulsion, like pulling the arm of the slot machine.
I've posted to this blog more than 3,100 times since 29 September 2003. In that time I've been banned from one website, slunk away from several others, and stormed off several more. I get into fewer 'flame wars' than I used to, but it still happens. I still feel anxiety about websites I've 'stopped reading'; indeed, at the site where I've been banned, I continue to comment under a different name.
I feel contempt for such behaviour but haven't found a way to stop it, as yet.
Since 2009 I've posted upwards of 150 reviews to the phish.net - but I've only posted one or two since June, during which time I've posted 50 comments in discussion threads and in response to the admins' blog posts. I consciously avoided any such discussions until this summer. This correlation between 'chatting' online and posting more thought-out frontline pieces (reviews and articles) has held, in my case, for many years.
After building a (very very minor) reputation as a thoughtful writer at whedonesque.com, I've all but scuttled it by turning into a persnickety, ill-tempered commenter. Unsurprisingly, none of my posts have been featured there since I started commenting more regularly.
The term isn't brand dilution, but then what's the term? Would I be happier if I knew?
A longtime netizen (remember that term?) told me this when I was banned from phishthoughts.com (for 'trolling'):
You are a highly intelligent, very cerebral and I believe well meaning person but it seems that you have some form of internet Asperger's which makes it impossible for you to determine what is and is not socially acceptable in many circumstances online.
I wrote him a long email telling him, essentially, that he had no idea what he was talking about and I was perfectly justified in what I said about the site's owner and EVERYONE NEEDS TO THICKEN THE OLD SKIN, ETC., ETC. But I didn't send it. My wife approvingly refers to this kind of thing as de-escalation and always looks so relieved when I choose not to carry on such exchanges. The look on her face breaks my heart. I realize, at such moments, that I don't actually know how much damage I do to myself - or I won't acknowledge it, or (worst of all, and most likely) I've decided I need to hurt myself 'socially' in order to continue living as I am.
Last summer I wrote this:
I think we should purge the books and sell them, to alleviate my guilt (not a writer, not a devoted enough reader, nothing special...) and maybe recoup a bit of money. My wife thinks we should keep the books around[...] And dust them. I try to explain that life will stop and start over, better, if she'll just allow this one gesture; I mistake my self-indulgence for patience.
She evidently believes -- insists -- that life can't start or stop, can only continue, so we might allow ourselves to do the same. I imagine that our future must resemble my past. The books, I'm certain, are signs of my...well, my irresponsibility, profligacy, compulsions, status-consciousness. My individual failings, you might say. Don't I get the future I darkly deserve?
But what comes next is ours, not mine. `Mine' is just for comfort -- like the books. In our future[...]I'm glad my wife[...]made me keep the dreadful damned books way back when, and frustrated my urge to reduce our life to my story.
In grad school I went to a conference and met a young professor from some college out of sight/mind, and over the course of several joyful drunkening hours it became clear that we wanted to fuck each other, quite, but I was dating someone and she had to get back to her friends' house where she was staying, and in any case it would have been an absolutely colossal mistake, quite, but unforgivable? Who knows? Probably yes and deservedly so I'd say (were the situation reversed). Well. One of those stories I hold onto in which I 'miss an opportunity' to have a conventional 'good story' but still come close enough to some inner horizon that the light goes strange and new (or very old) things are revealed. So how bad a story can it really be, what I've got now? She was a Buffy fan too and I definitely should have called her when I was single, later. But I wasn't ever really single.
I mention it because, though I can't find the email she sent a few days later in response to my own message, I've memorized these phrases:
Shamefully, I often use 'Asperger's Syndrome' as a term of derision.
This is inappropriate and callous.
It would be, even if I were Oprah Winfrey.
Everyone wants his favourite band to also be The Very Best Band. This is really important to teenagers, who in this country have nothing else to do, but it stays important to nominal adults. Like me. Same for books/films of course. (Phish, Coltrane, James Joyce, Fight Club, etc.) Same for people, though I wouldn't know. I can't imagine what I'd be like if I didn't map my tastes on to the cosmic quality scale.
The point being that there are two problems compounding one another: I compulsively fiddle about on the Internet, either getting into arguments or zoning out pretending to be interested in what Ezra Klein and Arthur Silber have to say about anything, but at the same time I have very serious trouble maintaining a civil tone and spirit of congeniality in online fora. I tend to monologue at people - ever notice how rarely I respond to the wonderful comments around here? When the conversation gets two-sided I lose control of something (maybe just the conversation), and I end up saying things I regret. 'Being misunderstood,' HORROR!, but more than that: no longer trying to understand the people I talking to. Not reaching out.
And that's where I am this morning. Worried, if you're wondering, that I'll slowly lose friends and alienate readers and never stop doing the things I most hate about myself. And - you must know this is deeply related - worried, too, that I'll never write freely because it will always be about me.
You want 100% employment? Assign every single citizen to border patrol. The true meaning of the nation-state right there, the geographic Self. OK, hold one guy back to make dinner I guess. One guy for laundry. And someone to make sure the cable bill gets paid.
My son will probably wake up soon, and my wife with him. The day will start. Real life will start. This...this is the shadow. If you walk toward the light it'll hide from your sight, but not as a favour: your shadow will follow you wherever you go.
Seeking last night to explain my seeming negativity in response to friends' recounting of their newfound romantic/domestic hopes, I hit upon the following imperfect analogy:
The day-to-day hopefulness of people (particularly young people) in love relates to the systemic health of a relationship, its sustainability and integrity, the way the Dow Jones Industrial Average relates to the underlying strength of and productivity of the nation's economy: i.e. pretty much not at all.
When we're in love or just in hope - when we're pulling for a relationship to be something new and healthy, disregarding years of precedent because This Time Things Are Different - we tend to react strongly to daylong improvements, week-to-week healthy signs, small symbolic gestures or moments. Committed (at least rhetorically) to 'living in the now' or 'for the moment,' we devote ourselves in fact to the next moment, the promise of something swell just around the corner. We give full voice to our hopes and fears and think of ourselves as being at the center of something monumental.
But the Dow Jones has never been higher than when the American economy was going tits-up even as Wall Street raked in record profits; which is to say the soaring stock markets and financial-sector profits of the 90's were a lie agreed upon, a single number more reassuring than the many sets of complicated numbers recording the collapse of the industrial economy and the hollowing-out of the USA's basic material productivity. If you watch the day-to-day movement of the market you'll start seeing 'green shoots' and 'bear markets' even when the fundamentals are unchanged.
Romance is fun and trivially easy but you build your life on the fundamentals. 'He bought me a diamond ring' and 'The sex is great' and 'She's so awesome, she makes me forget my troubles' are single-day market upticks. But the market isn't the economy, as America's small investors have learned over and over to their chagrin these last 20 years. There are plenty of fundamental indicators, ready reflections of the true order of things, if you know where to look:
'Are you kidding me? We can't talk about that kind of thing.'
'At this point I've just given up. He won't clean the bedroom and I'm tired of asking.'
'He can be a real asshole sometimes, but I know that's not the real him.'
'What with the wedding planning and all, we just haven't had time to sit down and have the "do we want kids someday?" talk. I'm sure there'll be time later.'
The scary thing about a 'market correction' isn't just the vertigo of watching our money disappear hour by hour, it's the realization that the state of the market didn't actually reflect the state of the business concerns it ostensibly followed. Precipitous systemwide drops in stock prices theoretically increase the accuracy of the representation that is 'stock price,' bringing share prices in line with the actual economic prospects of their respective companies. And when prices creep up again, we call it a 'recovery' - and allow ourselves to live in/for the map while disregarding the territory.
Funnily enough, no one refers to stock market increases as 'corrections.'
Object/representation mismatches are big trouble in relationships. To address them after the fact is painful (the 'market correction,' so to speak). They are easily prevented, though, when both parties in a relationship work hard to foster an environment in which open, honest communication is the norm, and neither party is expected to perform reassurance solely to palliate the other.
I had other stuff to say but I'm feverish, dehydrated, dog tired, and unable to follow my own writing. This will have to do! HOPE THAT HELPS!!
our ~11-month-old son got his first musical instruments today: a marching drum and a little wooden xylophone. at first he just wanted to bang things with the sticks and mallets, which was a joy in itself. seeing him control his environment, even in that small way, is pure pleasure for a parent.
then he and i got into some mallet/stick trading game - he would play with one of each, then i'd trade him a stick for a mallet, and we went back and forth that way for a while. agi was reading her book ('ancient bodies, modern lives') and beaming at us every once in a while, as was her father, feliks's grandfather, who is a painter/sculptor when not working as a thin films engineer, and who obviously wants the kid to turn out a foolish artist. (am i projecting?)
then feliks started drumming on the drum.
i think that's the widest smile i've smiled in a long time. absolute bliss. he was more adroit with his left hand than with his right, surprisingly(?) - tapping in natural rhythm atop the drumskin, hitting just off-center, then sweeping the stick around to rattle on the rim.
i know it's not 'music' to him; on the other hand i'm not sure my own music is 'music' in any essential sense. it's feeling, aurally encoded; echoes of some innerworld, or sense-mapping of a possible world yet to fall into mere physicality.
each day of parenthood is another invitation to tumble laughing into the family-body, the triple-helix that is our own memory-making being. feliks can't know how happy he makes me, not yet; because 'happy' isn't for him a separate category. it's just one way of being. he needn't 'think' about it. but surely he feels it - surely he feels deeply those moments of joyful becoming. feeling deeper than thought.
i don't know what i know, but what i feel is that growing with my son and my wife, being welcomed into the greater body (welcoming all of us each in turn; dissolving), is the truest feeling i know, the most fulfilled. not 'best'; that language is inadequate.
i think: i hope he loves music. i wonder whether he'll love making music as i do, will hear and see it all day. i remember the look in my then-future-wife's eyes as a beloved song rumbled out across a dancefloor (my god it was) nearly a decade ago; she was the music, momentarily. her body a melody line. i hardly knew her then. she was then for me a lovely idea, arm's length: 'Woman' or something. now we have a chance to be one body. it is bliss. we are bliss.
Do you get up up up?
Clouds stop and move above me
Too bad they can't help me
What is the right way?
Do I float up up up?
When I stop and look around me
Grey's where that colour should be
What is the right way?
Old glasses clinking and a
New order's blinking
and I -
I should be floating but I'm weighted by thinking
--Animal Collective, 'What Would I Want? Sky'
[this is how i warm up to write in the mornings. W20 is MIT's student center. the buckles is of course starbucks. --wa.]
here at the buckles in harvard type tapping away, tips and topplings, tenuous at best. rhymes tipping tapwise out of electrical taping. sniffles, snorts, watery eyes, sore neck. thick chest-filling mucus. tv on the radio on the headphones on the computer (and by way of inspiration playing on the PA system here at starbucks, else why would i have turned toward vocal music at all, writing freewriting?).
managed to turn out something halfway decent yesterday, or so it seemed. something and something else put together into some third thing. some goddamn high school girl sitting across from me interrupting her homework to text dispassionately someotherone. maddening to see total affectlessness on another human face. do i look that way? ever? face goes slack, studied indifferent posture. same hands same eyes same dead non-smile. same will to power will to powerlessness. same whatever. every high schooler like every human being is totally different but the normalizing pressure on behaviour is incredibly strong. the ones who escape the orbit of the prevailing culture find something else, some orbital base on one or another poorly-lit basement asteroid playing D&D or punk rock in a twelfth-rate garage band with his buddies or they fuck a lot or refuse to, yes or find jesus entirely or just gesture at being a scientist, write sonnets ONLY I INSIST using elizabethan vocabulary and modern pseudo-psychology of course. 'i am a snowflake melting each morning reforming as new dark ice each night' that sort of thing.
all poems written by high schoolers are essentially the same poem. SOMEONE HOLD ME CLOSE SOMETHING MAKE ME WHOLE SOMEHOW LET ME ESCAPE
dude barking loudly into his cell phone over there in celtics gear and beaten-up brown boots, scars on the back of his arm (burns from hot metal looks like). man with miles on him. frayed edges on his t-shirt, worn jean-hems. earned his age. plenty to be said for a man who lives into his form and fate in this way. look gathering motes of time upon leatherworn skin like the settle of ancient dust, once was skin (all of us all of ours)
every surface edge of you frays and wears with the idiot passing of (we call it) time
commander controller i found you
defender destroyer i found you
dirtly little whirlwind
all caught up in the flesh of a girl
-- tv on the radio
time is a name we give to forgetting
tv on the radio is one of the sexiest bands i've ever heard in my life. ever. i mean i've never heard sexy music that wore its intelligence right on its sleeve like that and dared the listener to find that sexy. the push and pull of carnal and intellectual impulses makes for the music's complexity i think.
ok i think it's time to get down to work. 10:45am, i need to be home by 3pm, plenty of time to nail down the final comments on the four papers. give each of them a half-hour or so. something like that.
ok here we go.
just a little time before meeting agi for the ol' baby-changing-hands afternoon routine. weird being the one to receive the baby at day's end i gotta say. ok let's not dick around too long here. reading D&D shit online annoyed/rattled me i gotta say. the usual annoyance over petty things, aggravated by middle-aged men bitching about Those Kids and the (Inevitable) Decline of Culture. same old shit. no generation wants to be mislabeled that way.
crowded tables at the buckles. like W20 with more attention to paid to grooming. i wish that were something i valued. to be the kind of person who cared about things that other kinds of people cared about. to have that connection-via-abstraction. subcultural membership. only i don't much feel that way day to day. well you can be part of the mythical-alone too, if you like. another subculture.
My handle, 'Wax,' is apparently used as a verb meaning 'to banish from the thread' on another blog! This in honour of my own banishment!
If the dude weren't a dufus it'd be almost sad, or funny!
...waking to find your sprained ankle has healed and you can walk for the first time.
Reading other fans' memories of Phish (and the fandom) in mid-to-late 1997 - the moment when the band tipped over a cliff from nerd-prog rock algorithms into deep dark free improv - has me a little misty right now. My peak fandom began that summer and burned out in Fall '98; it was the happiest time of my life for a long while. Merely a moment.
Might have to bust out my 7/22/97 DWD → Mike's and travel the spaceways tonight...
1. My Aegypt-reading has been delayed: I reserved Swanwick's Stations of the Tide at the library and wanna blast through it first. Should be quick.
Can't read Crowley distracted. It's a moral imperative.
2. First two chapters of Swanwick's book: golden. Weird, though, to read a book set in a high-tech spacefaring civilization, written between the advents of cable television and the WWW. Communications technology poses difficulties for the SF writer, just as cell phones make horror/mystery stories that much harder to write. (Buffy featured cell phone use in one episode, as I recall, and only then as a spoof...)