Saturday, December 4, 2010


GENERATION OLD AND CRANKY I love Zadie Smith, all three pages I have read by her. She's a genius. This "Generation Why?" essay is incredible.

I hate Facebook and I am on it, and every day, I have to will myself to check it. "Just check it already," I whisper. "Just check it and 'like' a few things and then you're done."

I actually cancelled my account once, but then got back on because I felt stodgy and self-righteous, not having an account. Both of which I am. But still, not everybody on Facebook needs to know that.

This is an especially good part of the essay:

When a human being becomes a set of data on a website like Facebook, he or she is reduced. Everything shrinks. Individual character. Friendships. Language. Sensibility. In a way it’s a transcendent experience: we lose our bodies, our messy feelings, our desires, our fears. It reminds me that those of us who turn in disgust from what we consider an overinflated liberal-bourgeois sense of self should be careful what we wish for: our denuded networked selves don’t look more free, they just look more owned.


I’ve noticed—and been ashamed of noticing—that when a teenager is murdered, at least in Britain, her Facebook wall will often fill with messages that seem to not quite comprehend the gravity of what has occurred. You know the type of thing: Sorry babes! Missin’ you!!! Hopin’ u iz with the Angles. I remember the jokes we used to have LOL! PEACE XXXXX

When I read something like that, I have a little argument with myself: “It’s only poor education. They feel the same way as anyone would, they just don’t have the language to express it.” But another part of me has a darker, more frightening thought. Do they genuinely believe, because the girl’s wall is still up, that she is still, in some sense, alive? What’s the difference, after all, if all your contact was virtual?

I noticed the same thing when Brittany Murphy died and her ex-boyfriend Ashton Kutcher tweeted "u will be missed." Or something of the like. And I was thinking, Can you not be bothered to use standard English in your electronic sympathy note, you illiterate jackhole.

"no, I cn't!!!! bc u c *im* not dead--i got sht 2 do like mk mooVs, k?"

As you can probably tell, like ZS (and sadly this is the only way in which we are alike), I don't speak Tweety.

GET YOUR PEANUTS! I really like the art/word postcard micropress Abe's Penny. My friend Jim Henry and I were in an issue together way back in the day, as in two years ago. If you sign up, you get beautiful postcards once week and they're connected, so each month, you get four different postcards which make up a complete story or poem. Now they've started Abe's Peanut for kids. I sound like an advertisement, and I swear Abe's Penny is not paying me out of their fat bankroll, but my husband noted and I think he's right: "This would be a great thing to buy somebody as a gift." He's an artist so he appreciates things you can actually hold and turn around and put up close to your eyeball.

JIM HENRY IS GOING TO GET HIS PROPERS ONE DAY WHEN I AM IN CHARGE OF EARTH. Speaking of Jim Henry? Jim Henry is honestly, seriously, no kidding, the best writer EVER. He is astounding. You will read his stories and you will laugh and laugh. You will also feel terribly sad and at times you will cringe and feel implicated, and finally, when you shut the book, you will weep a little for yourself, and when you pull yourself together, it is possible you will mutter, as I did, "I am not really very talented, am I? But that's okay. I am probably other things."

Sure, Jim is my friend, but Ann Beattie feels the same way, it's not just me. He won the Iowa prize in fiction and she's the one who chose his book THANK YOU FOR BEING CONCERNED AND SENSITIVE.

Unfortunately he says he doesn't write anymore. He is not a writer. He teaches in the Middle East and travels and takes pictures.

He's such a liar, I'm sure next year he'll publish 10 books he's been sitting on for the last decade.

In any case, this book is a treasure that too few people know about. Jim Henry is woefully underexposed.

I was typing some parts in for my friend the other day because you can't find the stories online.

Here's an excerpt from his short story "The Main Event":

Right around the Fourth my Uncle Len, who had just moved in with us, started having his murder dream. Then my girlfriend Lola, told me she was pregnant ...[...]

Uncle Len is my mother's brother and he came to live with us when his third wife committed suicide, just like his first had. My mother said he was thinking there was something wrong with him and she asked him to come live with us for a while. She told us she wanted him to see what a real family was like. She thought his wives had all been trashy women. [...]

Uncle Len found both his dead wives and caught Irene in bed with her boyfriend. My father told me all those things, the details. He said Len was a clod and told me that a man who marries floozies deserves what he gets.

"A wife isn't for fun," he told me. "We aren't here to have fun."

In Uncle Len's murder dream he wakes up from sleeping (in the dream) and thinks he's just woken up from a bad dream. Then he goes and gets a butcher knife from the kitchen and kills us all, one at a time. He carves us up "like turkeys, starting with James." I heard him one night telling my parents this. He was sweating with fear after waking up screaming. I was listening from the upstairs banister.

It chilled me that he started his massacre with me and I wondered what Freud would think of this dream. [...]

My mother is a firm believer in chores and one of mine is to feed the chinchillas that live in the basement. My mother was raising chinchillas to sell for their fur in tiny chicken wire cages all over the basement. They were loud and obnoxious and smelled awful, but she thought someday they would put us on Easy Street. Which, she said, was "farther than your father will ever get us." She thought my father didn't work hard enough and didn't exert himself. They argued about it all the time. "You've got to put yourself out there," she'd say, holding open a paperback "How To" book at her hip as proof that she knew what she was talking about. She was always reading books about succeeding in the business world. My father never read them and this was a source of a lot of fights. "How can you just turn your back on Easy Street?" she would cry. "What kind of a man are you?" Things like that. If nothing else, these fights proved what my father said, you don't get married for fun.

My mother told me not to get too attached to the chinchillas because soon they would be goners but there was no problem there. I hated those damn animals with their buckteeth and smelly racks of pellets. I wouldn't have cared if the house caught on fire and they burned alive.

The day Lola told me she thought she was pregnant, I went down there like always and fed the damn things out of the big feed bags my mother bought and I noticed one of them was having babies. Not an uncommon event, but still, like a lot of things, it made me mad at God. There's a lot I don't understand, even Claude the Genius' whisperings and I've decided that the reason I don't understand them is that God doesn't want me to. The world could have been created to be understood, but it wasn't. And that, it seems to me, is pure maliciousness--on God's part. Take for instance the dinosaurs, or why the universe is so big and Earth such a tiny speck of nothingness. You would think there is some kind of a reason for everything, and if there is, why were there dinosaurs on Earth so long before men? What were they doing here? Why didn't Creation just start with us? Were the dinosaurs just a practice run for the main event, or is there some reason behind their multimillion-year reign? Claude the Genius tells me in my sleep that they were here because they were an important part of the food chain that today has turned into oil and coal and God wanted us to have oil and coal so we could drive Toyotas and have stereos. But if that's true, then it's possible that we aren't even the main event. Maybe the point is for us to destroy ourselves so the reason the universe was created can get started. Maybe God is up there twiddling his thumbs and yawning. Meanwhile, we think he's watching all the sparrows fall.

So I watched the chinchilla squirting out another half-dozen or so smelly fur coats and I looked up at God, although all I saw was heating ducts, and I said, in as sarcastic a voice as possible, "Oh, I suppose there's a message here for me, eh?" I thought this because, obviously, I had abortions on my mind. Lola would have to get one. I was not going to be a father at fifteen. Period. Thank you very much. So then I get a nature film in living color about the glory of reproduction. Ha-ha, God, good one.

A dinner that night Uncle Len said he thought maybe he would check himself into a looney bin. My mother said that nobody was checking into any loony bin because nobody was looney. Then Uncle Len said, "I'd just hate to wake up one morning and find you all dead and cut up."

"So would we, Len," my dad cheered, his mouth full of creamed broccoli, "so would we."

He was trying to be funny, which I thought was really his only option, but my mother just glared at him.

"One of the chinchillas had six babies today," I announced, my voice echoing in my own head in a strange way, like it wasn't even me talking.

"Hello, Easy Street!" my mother said, her fork raised high in victory.

Uncle Len wasn't working and rather than spend his days getting out of the way of my mother's vacuuming, he drank coffee at the Starlight Diner and read the paper. I saw him in there a lot and usually pretended I hadn't. But that day I went in and joined him at his booth. "Hi'ya kiddo," he said uneasily. He hadn't shaved and I thought he looked like the kind of guy you see on the news for stabbing a family to death for no reason. "That girl of yours is something." He whistled to show me how much he thought of her. "Kids today are so lucky. The only way I'll ever get in the pants of a fifteen year old is to get a Bangkok whore. Enjoy it," he grinned, "life does nothing but get weirder."

There was a chance Uncle Len was going insane but I thought he'd led an interesting life and was probably the type of guy who knew about things like abortions. So as I sipped my coffee I told him the whole story and asked his advice. He smoked with squinted eyes as I finished and then he leaned forward and told me this was the oldest trick in the book. He said that Lola was trapping me into marrying her. He said he knew this because no pregnant woman would say what she said to me about not using a rubber. "A pregnant woman is not a regular woman," he said. "Their brains go to mush and they don't think about sex like that. They've already got some damn thing growing down there and they don't want men showering it with their stuff." He said she wanted to have sex with me without a rubber so she would get pregnant and then she would make me marry her so I'd have to support her for the rest of her life.

"But she has a trust fund, Uncle Len," I told him. "She's already got more money than I'll ever have."

"Oh yeah," he said. "I forgot she was a Dickens."

We sat there for a while in silence and I felt kind of sorry for him. He'd been so excited when he was warning me about Lola's conspiracy, and now I'd robbed him of that. "Damn!" he said finally. "That body and a trust fund. You should pretend to get pregnant."

[...] We didn't shoot the senator, but we did have rubberless sex in her old bed surrounded by all her old dolls. Afterward, when we were lying in bed I played with the dolls. I noticed that if you held them upside down their eyelids closed with a whispering click. As I held one, I decided to tell Lola about Claude the Genius and his nighttime visits to me. I'd never mentioned him to anyone before, but I thought since she told me she would maybe like to kill someone, I owed her a secret. Claude the Genius was the only one I had. I told her the story of how a voice whispers to me in my sleep, how he told me his name was Claude and that he was a genius from another dimension that couldn't be described in any way that would mean anything to me, and how he tries to explain the mysteries of the universe. "But even with his help, I still don't get it," I told her. She held me tight and started into my eyes with wonder.

"You are chosen," she said, "chosen." And then she climbed on top of me and we rubbed our sweat-soaked bodies together, staring into each other's eyes in absolute silence.

From his story "Observer Status":

My sister continues. "I think I would like to be artificially inseminated by a Nobel laureate." My sister stands and takes a deep breath. "I know this is difficult to comprehend from within the cultural morass, so if you could please just take a second and try to free yourself from the stifling limits of this idiotic society with its servile, unimaginative mores, I think you may find my reasoning sound."


My sister sighs, arms folded, and she half turns away. "I can see you two are having trouble freeing yourself from the confines of this idiotic cultural..."

"Don't tell me about culture, young lady," Mom warns, wagging a spoonful of herring in the air. "Cultural abstractions have no place at this table."

"Oh! Is that so? Well let me tell you something, cultural abstractions abound! To label them ubiquitous would be a comic understatement. They are at the heart of all morality, all judgment--everything!"

"Well, yes," Mom says, leaning forward in battle, "but only as abstractions. Abstractions are meaningless when applied to individuals--you know that."

"So are you really going to stand there and acknowledge the existence of a stifling cultural narrative and then insist that it has no impact on the individual--in this conversation, that would be you two?"


"So if you can't rip yourselves away from the illusion of normalcy you're wallowing in, and you're against it, just say so and I'll wait."

"We're against it," Mom says, lifting a spoonful of herring to her mouth. "We are definitely against it."

My sister shrugs and jams her open palms onto her hips. She looks the two of them in the face and shakes her head in disappointment and says, "At what age should I expect everything to take on such dramatic meaning?" She leaves, however, before either can answer, humming.

From his story "Mouthfeel":

"It's a waste of life. The earth just spins and spins," she went on, shaking her head, rolling it back and forth in the dirt. Miles noticed an old dead branch had gotten stuck in her ponytail. "So anyway, I was leading this discussion--about mouthfeel--when this very dark, black woman who I had never seen before came in carrying this enormous tray of cold cuts. It was huge, the size of a good-sized kitchen table top, far larger than ours, anyway. And she moved with such grace and precision that she captivated my attention. Here is a woman, I thought, here is a real person, doing real work in the real world. She is setting out a tray of cold cuts. I envied her like you cannot believe, Miles. I wished to God I was a black servant woman."

Jenny was still lying on he ground. A long one or two minutes of absolute silence passed. "I am a foods scientist, Miles." Another pause. "I say the word mouthfeel dozens of times every week." Longer pause. "My car cost thirty five thousand dollars." She went on, and on.

Jim's photography is not too shabby either. The captions are especially entertaining. Smile and Monkey for instance.

YOU KNOW WHAT'S *REALLY* HILARIOUS? DEPRESSION. It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini . . . it really is kind of a funny story. I read it the day after Thanksgiving. It is a book about depression that is not depressing, just like its blurb says. The protag in IKOAFS is a high school freshman named Craig who is clinically depressed and planning on jumping off a bridge. I like mentally ill protags, as previously mentioned--or if not explicitly mentioned, then strongly implied. In other words, I am the target audience for this book and Ted Vizzini hit that target. I would have loved this book in high school, but I like it now, too.

Ned Vizzini, I like your book. Quite honestly, though, I probably won't see the movie. Even when I want to feel excited during movies, I don't. Then I feel uncomfortable and unexcited all at once. But my sister saw it and said It's Kind of a Funny Movie. I do want to see stills of what Nia looks like in the movie though. I hope she has black circles on her cheeks!

I AM SAVAGELY LATE TO THE 2007 PARTY AT WHICH EVERYONE WAS DIGGING ON THIS BOOK. I also am savagely obsessed with Roberto Bolano. I don't know how to make a tilde online but whatever, you know who I'm talking about, the author of THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES

I just read the book out of order---the first section, then the end, then the middle--so now I have to read it through again in sequence. My friend recommended it to me and I wrote him half way through to thank him and noted:

"It's like ON THE ROAD--if ON THE ROAD were beautifully written and hilarious and international and not gay."

This review and this review are interesting. (The first review more than the second, I think). In the first review, I liked this part:

It’s something close to a miracle that Bolaño can produce such intense narrative interest in a book made up of centrifugal monologues spinning away from two absentee main characters, and the diary entries of its most peripheral figure. And yet, in spite of the book’s apparent (and often real) formlessness, a large part of its distinction is its virtually unprecedented achievement in multiply-voiced narration.

Above all, Bolaño overcomes the problem of getting so many voices to comment on the same events, or sing to the same music, by letting each voice persist in its natural egocentricity. True, the reader is liable to protest, somewhere before page 200, that this book isn’t about anything. Later on, it’s possible to recognise, with admiration, that Bolaño has found a way to keep the novel alive and freshly growing in the Sonora of modern scepticism – our scepticism, that is, as to what can finally be known or said of any life, and whose life is worth being represented, or considered representative, in the first place.

I think the most interesting thing about this book is how it keeps being interesting--despite its structure (or lack thereof). Why should this be interesting? I kept asking myself. If you took this book to an MFA workshop, people would tell you

a) this is not about anything
b) this is not how you write a story

It is NOT how you write a story, and yet, it's so continually engaging and authentic.

Bolano presents 38 different narrators in the middle section of the book. They are being interviewed about Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, the founders of Visceral Realism (a literary movement that's never defined, even the founders and its members seem uncertain about its definition). The best part is Bolano doesn't even attempt to create a hierarchy of narrators or give narrators equal face time or focus on dialect or even keep the narrators focused on the subject of the interview. Some of the narrators' stories don't even mention Lima and Belano. Other than the fact that it's beautifully written (though in plain language) it doesn't really do anything a good book is supposed to do--which may be why it is so staggeringly great.

Two questions:

1. Who's the interviewer in the second section?
2. Are the symbols at the end [insert idea] devices, or are they poems? Or both? Or neither?

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