Tuesday, January 31, 2006

You need Times Select (or a real, newsprinted newspaper) to read it, but Sarah Vowell, my pick for Mayor of NYC, is guest columnist-ing at the Times all through February.

...it has been said that God is currently angry with America. But according to God's publicist, the Supreme Being would like to clarify that He's not angry, but that "He would like His name taken off the credits."

lover don't turn yr head

The first thing we noticed about Evan Dando on Saturday night was that his hair was clean. Really clean. When he played at Maxwell's 2 years ago, he was wearing an old man cardigan and a hat over a scuzzy ponytail. This time his hair was all shiny, and he had bangs. He kind of looked like a shampoo commercial. But not in a recovered rockstar kind of way. More like maybe he's healthy and not doing lots of drugs. Good things.

Evan! Thank you for starting your set with the booger song! Thank you for finishing with "Big Gay Heart." Thank you for a supply of happy bouncey music and stripped down acoustic sets and the simple radness that is Baby I'm Bored, for making me think about Sassy magazine's Cute Band Alerts, and the greatness that was and is and maybe will still be The Lemonheads.

For a little while longer, you can still smoke in bars in New Jersey. It's been awhile since I've come home from a night out with my clothes smelling like cigarettes, where that kind of thing used to be my badge of honor. It was disgusting, but also nice, like most kinds of nostalgia. Oh, New Jersey.

Have you heard the new Gossip record? Holy crap. It's slightly more polished than their first 2 (as these things go) but it is Just. So. Good. I can't stop listening to it, and marvelling at 1) how just one guitar and drums backing the vocals can sound so explosive and 2) how that keeps their sound from being too clean or overblown, keeps them sounding vaguely dirty and garage-y no matter how perfect the production is. The Gossip. Don't-fuck-with-me punk, with soul. I love listening to them when I'm walking around late at night, scowling and grinning at the same time. As soon as Beth Ditto starts to sing I start to swagger. I start to be really conscious of my hips, if that makes any sense.

I'm also loving the new Cat Power, and slowly getting into Jenny Lewis' solo album. 3 ladies with voices in one week, the first CD's I've bought in a few months, since I finally started downloading music from the interweb, only about 6 years after everyone else figured it out. By the way, did you catch Ben Ratliff in the Times awhile back referring to Chan Marshall and Beth Orton as "the sad slacker divas," in contrast to the "great female singers of exultation -- Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey, Beyoncé"? He meant it in a good way, but it's still incredibly dumb. Why are they slackers? Because their music is laid back and they don't over-sing their songs (oh, and they write them themselves)? Let's start calling Ben Gibbard and Conor Oberst and the legions of less interesting emo dudes who persist in making albums "weepy freeloading [something... I can't think of the male version of "divas"]." Nothing against Ben or Conor (mostly). But come on already.

I picked up the February issue of Spin because Jessica Hopper and Julianne Shepard have an article about the various lawsuits and troubles going on with SuicideGirls. I haven't read that magazine in a million years, long enough that I was actually shocked to see how tiny and flimsy it is now. I remember it being a direct competitor to Rolling Stone. I guess now Spin is actually putting bands on the cover of their magazine while RS is publishing pin-ups of Jessica Alba, hence the size differential. Anyway, the magazine does not totally suck, and even though it's super skinny, it's surprisingly light on ads (relatively). There's an interview with Jenny Lewis by Chuck Klosterman, and it's largely about Blake Sennett and very gossipy (with the obligatory reference to her being a former! child! star!), but you didn't hear me scream because it was pretty entertaining. Or maybe I was just really tired when I read it. There's also an article about radical marching bands which I haven't read yet. Weird how much interesting content there was. I wonder if it was a fluke.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

I am wearing a really ugly sweater. Not ugly in a good way. It's also scratchy. This was one of those mornings where I woke up way too late, couldn't decide what to wear and then ran around all panicked putting one thing on and then taking it off and throwing all my clothes on the floor. So this sweater was maybe my fourth try. I would have changed again if I knew it would be so itchy.

Things are happening and my brain is busy. I started a new writing class at The New School - non-fiction this time - and even though the instructor mumbles when he reads in this way that drives me nuts, I think its going to be really interesting and motivating. When I came home I wrote four pages, just like that. Of course, I'm not getting to the million things on my immediate to-do list, like the book review that was supposed to be done last Friday, so I guess tomorrow night will be a chain-myself-to-my-desk kind of situation. Except that the latest Todd Solondz movie just showed up in my mailbox from Netflix. Shit.

Tuesday night I went to hear Mary Oliver read at the 92nd street Y. I was trying yesterday to write about what it was like to be at that reading, but I can't really do it justice. I could mention that it brought me to tears - which is true - but that just sounds so dramatic and empty. All I can do is tell everyone to go read her poems. She read in an auditorium that I've been to before, and hate because it has a border of names of famous dead white guys (Lincoln, Jefferson, Moses, Shakespeare... you know the list) just below the ceiling, and therefore positioned over the stage. So there was Oliver, so humble and brilliant and amazing, standing at a podium underneath that list of names, a woman telling more truth than those guys ever did. And if that's an overstatement, too fucking bad. It's rare that you see a juxtaposition like that, one that SO cleary spells out a dynamic that we usually have to convince people even exists.

My new tote bag just arrived from Queen Bee so I can finally start carrying around the large amount of crap that I need to, instead of packing my dumb girl purse so full that it's like a brick.

some things from today, and some from not today.

"My Father's Abortion War," an essay adapted from Eyal Press' forthcoming book (which looks really good).

The fabulous Elizabeth Merrick is interviewed in Venus.

An interview with Steven Colbert - out of character and totally on point - at the av club.

Really good news: Daniel McGowan has been released into the custody of his sister, despite the "urgent plea" from the prosecutor to keep him locked up until trial. Reports indymedia:

Incredibly, the DA had attempted to assert that one of the factors showing that McGowan was unworthy of being released was the fact that he had supported political prisoner Jeff "Free" Leurs. Apparently, the judge was not buying that.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

things about men, mostly

I really really want to believe that I was NOT hearing a musak version of "Get Up, Stand Up" in Au Bon Pain just now, but I guess I shouldn't live in denial. On this same lunch break, I got asked out by a dude who was hawking his CD's on the corner. I'm always slightly disturbed by how easily and quickly the "I have a boyfriend" lie rolls out of my mouth, I don't even have to think about it. And I always resent that I have to use that excuse at all, as if that's the only reason I would turn down having dinner with this guy... but it's really just the easiest way to diffuse a situation and get the guy to let go of my hand. Whatever works, I guess.

Had a meeting this afternoon with the designers of our Annual Report, who I've worked with for a year and a half and who are great. After we'd gone over the project we were talking more generally, and one of them said (not completely out of nowhere), "I just got off the phone with my wife - she's an art director and used to work for me - and I realized that because we used to work together, I am pretty much always telling her what to do." I didn't know what to say. Congratulations? That kind of insight usually comes after lots of therapy? He's a pretty subdued guy, and was clearly awed by this revelation. The other designer is the one I do more work with, and he is Britsh and adorable and I have a huge embarassing crush on him. It's usually easy to handle because we communicate mainly via phone and email, but when we meet in person I spend the rest of the day smiling stupidly.

There are a whole lot of things I love about the Sunday Times, and one of them is the "Modern Love" column in the "Styles" section. Sometimes it's sappy, sometimes crazy, but always - ALWAYS - entertaining. Sometimes it's even beautifully written or painfully relatable, though I don't think this last thing is ever really the point. After a couple of not so great ones over the last few weeks, this past weekend's kind of blew me away. It was suspenseful and spare and raw and gorgeous. And the subject is along the lines of something I've been thinking a lot about, and scribbling down notes for some eventual essay about... the way "older men" function in relationship to "younger women," how it seems like so many women that I know have at some point formed relationships with much older men almost as a rite of passage, and how this dynamic is all over a lot of fiction I read as a kid/teenager. Abby Sher's piece - "So He Looked Like Dad. It Was Just Dinner, Right?" - is more specific about her motivations, and so worth reading.

This piece about scoring massive amounts of free shit by posing as journalist is hilarious (and horrifying), and makes me even sadder that this is The Black Table's last week in existence.

Monday, January 23, 2006

i might need to get cable.

This American Life has some amazing news!

Last week Showtime made it official: we're going to produce a series for them, a television version of This American Life. We shot a pilot last year, and the full series will begin broadcasting in the fall or winter of 2006. We'll continue making the radio show while we do the TV show. Again: the radio show will stay on the air.

What we can say about the series: It doesn't look a TV newsmagazine. It's shot to look like a movie. Widescreen. Beautiful lighting. And the stories feel just like the stories on the radio show. When we started the pilot, we weren't sure that'd be possible. Now we're convinced it is. We'll give more details – and hopefully some previews – in the coming months.


Yesterday at Bluestockings was one of those great, busy days where there are a million people buzzing around high on books and caffeine and that certain Sunday afternoon feeling, and everyone is in a good mood. Then it was off to eat dinner uptown with my favorite cousins and back down to meet someone for a drink, who it turned out didn't generally like to drink. He changed his mind about that after the first round, but in between there was the pizza place where the guy stood next to our table shaping the dough for a new vegan pie with his hands, hanging just a couple inches from the floor, and telling us stories. That was the best part of the night. That, and the lights still on in the bookstore at 1am and Jeffrey there to commiserate. Other than that it was mostly me sitting and staring at the tin ceiling and stabbing at the lime and ice at the bottom of my glass.

On the way from one thing to another, I totally had a missed connection, Village Voice style (or maybe more Craig's List, these days). Except that it was someone I already knew instead of someone I sensed I was destined to meet. Waiting for the uptown V train at 2nd avenue late Sunday afternoon, a girl waiting for the F. From a good distance away, she already looked a lot like a girl who I went to summer camp with and was good friends with and totally loved. So I kept staring. And looking away. And staring again. She definitely saw me and nothing registered, probably not least because last time I saw her I had super short spiky hair. Her train pulled in and she got on, and right then I decided that it definitely was her. But by the time I ran to get onto that train (which I could've taken in the first place) the door closed and she was gone. And then I remembered that the V wasn't even running. So I had a nice cinematic missed connection AND I was late for dinner.

The last time we talked was about 6 years ago. I was in Seattle and she was in Portland and we were trying to figure out a way to meet up but didn't, and that was it. She was living in Berkeley and then ended up at school in Boston and I looked up her email address there a couple years ago but did nothing with it, and now it's too late because even though I'm sure it was her yesterday, Google turns up no useful contact info.

Other Google snooping revealed awhile ago that another friend who I had a mysterious, fucked up and still pretty unsettling falling out with when we were 17 is most definitely living in Brooklyn. One day in the land of sleep deprivation and caffeine overload (otherwise known as work) I wrote him an email that I don't ever plan to send. It's still waiting in my email draft box though, with the placeholder subject line "an email to send to D if I'm feeling adventurous." But it's not adventure, just curiosity. I need to keep reminding myself that that is just not enough.

Friday, January 20, 2006

I'm listening to "The Swimming Song" by Loudon Wainwright, which I swear is just about the greatest song ever. It is Friday, and tonight I have to go out and be a girl, and feign interest in something that I already know is just not going to work. When really, I just want to go home and watch Erin Brockovich on TBS. And play with my brand new Print Gocco! I'm so excited about this thing. I have visions of semi-mass producing lots of art and selling prints on cool paper for cheap. But I guess I can do that on Saturday too.

New York magazine profiles Chan Marshall:

Many artists with stage fright avoid the stage. So, why does Chan travel the world performing all the time? "That's something I can't answer," she says. "I don't know what else to do. In a perfect world, I would be in love and have children and have a reason to stay in one place and not do this anymore."

I finally read Linda R. Hirshman 's piece in the American Prospect that Patricia Cohen wrote about last weekend. Even if her emphasis on the elite class and fancy jobs is irritating and the way she defines success almost exclusively in terms of capitalism makes me cringe, the article really is pretty much as great as some people are saying (what a recommendation, right?):

In interviews, women with enough money to quit work say they are "choosing" to opt out. Their words conceal a crucial reality: the belief that women are responsible for child-rearing and homemaking was largely untouched by decades of workplace feminism. Add to this the good evidence that the upper-class workplace has become more demanding and then mix in the successful conservative cultural campaign to reinforce traditional gender roles and you've got a perfect recipe for feminism's stall.

Seriously though. Go read it and then we can fight about it.

And, I want this woman's job.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Trying to get back to work and not get caught by one of the overly earnest kids freezing their asses off standing out on the sidewalk trying to get people to give money to Children International or CARE or the Northshore Animal League or some other deserving organization that I don't have $120 for, even if that's "just ten dollars a month." I really don't know how these people get anyone to pledge money on the street like that, especially when the weather is this shitty. The worst is when they say things to you like "Excuse me, do you have a minute for gay and lesbian rights?" It crushes my heart. Today I had to half-hide behind a mailbox and then duck underneath some construction awning to avoid a Children International guy who had staked out the doorway to my office building. Another guy standing right outside smoking a cigarette nodded at me like, "Nice maneuver." I don't actually feel guilty not giving them money, but I do feel self-righteous about it sometimes and then that makes me feel like shit. Like, "I work at a non-profit! Give me a moment's peace!" Occassionally I'll get sucked in to talking to them, and then I try to ask them things that I genuinely want to know, like do people actually give them money? Then I'll tell them that I've spent my share of time knocking on doors and standing out on sidewalks shoving leaflets into people's hands and begging them to sign things or pretend to care, so see, I understand that their job sucks. But that isn't enough. They still try to sell me on the plight of homeless kittens or hurricane victims or starving children and what pisses me off is their guilt trip, as in, you CAN give $10 to this cause. You KNOW you can. If you don't, you are a heartless loser. I guess they have to convince themselves that they believe in it in order to withstand the elements and lots and lots of jerks who say things like "I hate animals" as they walk by. And I'm probably one of many people they talk to every day who tries to empathize with them while still not writing a check, and this is maybe even more annoying than the people who just ignore them or pretend to talk on their cell phones (I'm one of those people, too). I'm just glad that they mostly wear brightly colored nylon jackets so they're easily idenifiable, and that I've perfected my laser vision so I can see where they are even a block away.

Also: If I read another interview with Jenny Lewis where she's asked about her acting career and/or her former relationship with Blake Sennett, I am going to scream. You might even hear it, wherever you are. I am looking forward to "Rabbit Fur Coat" though.

yeah, maureen dowd, and what?

To lead, and not just conduct campaigns that parrot the liberal elite's editorial pages, you have to shape your own identity and political destiny. And ever since the 2000 race, the Democrats have let Republicans caricature them as effeminate. The Democrats have let the G.O.P. give them their shape, and it's an hourglass.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Is anyone else disturbed by the photos that go along with this review of the latest anti-feminist polemic Women Who Make the World Worse: And How Their Radical Feminist Assault Is Ruining Our Families, Military, Schools, and Sports? Betty Friedan looks like she has a headache, Jane Fonda's smile looks plastic and painful, and Gloria Steinem is falling asleep. Are these the faces of feminism? I think not. At this point, anyone who writes a book attacking these women is just lazy. And check out this side-by-side comparison of Ms. magazine's latest cover alongside an issue of Ladies Home Journal. The design similarity isn't the end of the world - it's just really really lame - but why the fuck is Jane Fonda on the cover of this magazine instead of about a million other more interesting and relevant women and men? It's not that there aren't other great zines and magazines out there, but to see Ms. still hanging out on the newsstand, looking so clueless, really makes me cringe.

Anyway, Ana Marie Cox (late of Wonkette, now a Times It Girl with the publication of her first novel) makes short work of debunking Kate O'Beirne's oh-so-inspired book:

[O'Beirne's] salvos against such dusty icons as Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda and Catharine MacKinnon do all these women the enormous favor of making them relevant again. And, surely, anytime anyone recalls the deeds of Bella Abzug, an angel gets its wings.

It's always fun to call conservatives on their shit, but it also seems like a waste of energy and column inches. Patrica Cohen also tackles "choice feminism" in the Week in Review.

If you'd like to see the literary scandals of last week turned into a rather snotty, completely serious, yet still pretty interesting intellectual type essay that manages to compare James Frey's fictions to Holocaust deniers and the Bush administration (and who doesn't?), go see what everyone's favorite literary critic Michiko Kakutani has to say. And click here if you want to read Mary Karr's more insightful Op-Ed about the same situation. It's possible that I'm officially sick of this topic. Sick, yes, but still totally fascinated.

Monday, January 16, 2006

One of the questions I had to answer in my grad school admissions essay was what publications I read. My list was insanely, stupidly long, and it's only getting longer. The New Yorker is what really pushes me over the limit. I knew as soon as I got a subscription that it would bury me. I even probably knew it would happen so soon (I'm only on my forth issue). It's one of those things I feel like I should keep on top of, but every time I open my mailbox there's a new issue when I haven't even started the last one.

If you haven't picked up Kitchen Sink yet, you should. It's a quarterly magazine based out of San Francisco - with the tagline "for people who think too much" - and every issue is full of short-ish essays about art and music and politics, along with fiction and comix. What makes KS different is that the editors really make it a point to contextualize the things they're talking about: to never just review a book or movie or album, but to write more personally and in-depth about their own takes on those things. It makes for much more honest and interesting reading, and the result is a whole lot less masturbatory than a lot of the usual arts writing. KS is also blessedly short on interviews.

My weekend was pretty laid back, which is how I wanted it. Katie and I braved the sleet on Saturday night and had dinner at Pukk, this trendy (green flourescent lights, every surface including tables covered with round white tiles) but surprisingly cheap and delicious vegetarian Thai place. I did some laundry. I ate some cake. I did a bunch of reading. I read Manstealing for Fat Girls, by Michelle Embree, which looked promising because it was published by Soft Skull and had an awesome title. It was also blurbed by some writers I really like, including Michelle Tea and Poppy Z. Brite. But it was only (and barely, really) okay. The teenage narrator was pretty true to life, but there were enough over the top moments and characters to kind of kill things. Everything in the book was pretty bleak - as high school is - but eventually, I just couldn't care about the characters because I didn't believe in them. If you're going to have characters do a lot of drugs and beat up on themselves and form unrealistic friendships, it should at least feel like there's a reason behind it. There were points where I actually rolled my eyes. The best high school period piece I've read in a long time is still Joe Meno's Hairstyles of the Damned. That was such a solid, great book. I was hoping Manstealing might be a kind of girl driven version. Oh well. I also read Self-Made Man, by Norah Vincent (non-fiction). It was pretty much another disappointment, with Vincent (a lesbian) going undercover as a man in various social situations to try and get some insight into what men's motivations and actions. It didn't really reveal much that most of us don't already know or suspect, I think.

I did watch the FOUR! HOUR! PREMIER! EVENT! of 24 last night and tonight, though tonight I couldn't handle giving it my full attention. Man, that show is just so bad. I'm not sure I can stick around to see how terrible and cliched its going to get, but its also kind of amazing to see what new ridiculousness they manage to offer up with a straight face week after week.

And now, off to figure out what I can wear to work tomorrow that will make me feel capable and smart, but not too much like a grown up. This is a nearly impossible balance. A cup of coffee, always too full and dripping onto my hand as I rush into the office anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes late, is the one consistent thing about my appearance 5 days a week. There's something comforting about this though. If I think about it, I'm glad I haven't managed to really get it right.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Everyone is talking about this recipe for mac & cheese that was the #1 emailed article from the Times online for like a week. Everyone I talk to has read it, and salivated over it, and some people have actually made it. Anyone want to have a mac & cheese party? I am dying to make this. It's basically just pasta, butter, milk and about a million pounds of cheese, baked. The problem is that I honestly don't know if my oven works. Yes, I've lived in my apartment for a year and a half, and made so little use of the oven that it's not just that my oven doesn't work and I haven't gotten it fixed, but that I don't even know if it works. This is probably something I should figure out. I would actually like to know if baking is even a possibility in my kitchen, should I ever decide to shock everyone I know by giving it a try. I even have cookie sheets, which were a housewarming gift after I whined loudly enough about wanting to have some "just in case." Sometime last year I optimistically bought some Pillsbury sugar cookies, but the stick of dough is still in my fridge. Do those things expire?

It is something like 57 degrees out, and I didn't even wear my coat today. I just got back from picking up some prints at this amazing photo lab across the street from my office. You have to walk up this weirdly industrial flight of stairs to get to it, and then the whole floor smells like photo chemicals. Mmmmm. It is such a trigger for my brain. Yesterday when I went to drop off contact sheets and put in our order I got back to work in a really bad mood. At first I couldn't figure it out, but then realized that for awhile now I've gotten this displaced feeling when I'm in a photo gallery or a lab. Less so with the galleries, since I love looking at that kind of art on a lot of different levels, and my experience of it isn't always related to my own work (or lack thereof). But being in a lab is a lot more emotional. And being in a lab like this one, where people are crouched over lightboxes and waiting for their stuff to process, and thumbing through binders of negatives and marking up contact sheets makes me feel disconnected. And duh, I am. It's easy not to think about the fact that I don't do photography anymore when I'm not in the middle of it, but when I'm there, and I can't answer the guy's question about whether we were getting our prints done by machine or by hand I get defensive and really, I feel homesick. Homesick for the darkroom, whichever one, any one. For that kind of process. But I don't feel this way all the time.

So now I have these gorgeous 5x7 work prints that cost a lot of (not my) money because a machine didn't just spit them out, and the edges of the paper are a little rough from where it was cut, and the idea that someone else made them is digging at me. I mean, these are just basic head shots of my organization's executive director for using in this year's annual report, but it's this weird look at what I could be doing, or what I almost decided to do, and then didn't, not quite on purpose. I'm not sorry (and yes, I know it's never too late). But it still kinda sucks.

And then there's this news:

Nikon said it would halt production of all but two of its seven film cameras and would also stop making most lenses for those cameras. The company will halt production of the film camera models "one by one," though it refused to specify when.


Wednesday, January 11, 2006

ain't it the (sad) truth...

The NY Observer notices that 2005 may not have been a great year for women's movie roles:

"We should be writing more great roles for women, period,” said Ms. Witherspoon’s Walk the Line director, James Mangold, also on that red carpet on Sunday. “Another problem is that movies are generally made for 14-year-old boys—and 14-year-old boys want to watch 25-year-old action heroes. So the truth is, any movie, like all the ones being honored here tonight”—he gestured vaguely in the direction of Ang Lee and Philip Seymour Hoffman—“that makes it into reality, is a movie that made it despite the system that’s really built almost predominately and universally to make movies about comic-book heroes.”

Here's what JT Leroy confidante Mary Gaitskill said back in 2001 about the then-distant possibility of a hoax:

"It's occurred to me that the whole thing with Jeremy [J.T.] is a hoax, but I felt that even if it turned out to be a hoax, it's a very enjoyable one. And a hoax that exposes things about people, the confusion between love and art and publicity. A hoax that would be delightful and if people are made fools of, it would be OK—in fact, it would be useful."

Bookslut also pointed to another article this morning about the Leroy "revelations" (if you want to call them that), this time on Salon. The article was by Ayelet Waldman, and I read it, and it was okay. But then I clicked on "read all letters on this article," you know, to see what the word on the street is about Leroy and partner-in-literary-scandal James Frey today. Here is what I mostly found:

Why does Salon insist on publishing drivel from a half-baked, modestly talented mystery writer? Simple: a)she's a woman and b) if Salon didn't publish Ayelet Waldman, we'd be stuck with another overwrought, self-absorbed female writer like Anne Lamott.


Congratulations, Waldman. You successfully saved face by proving you knew he/she was a phony before everyone else. Your former support of Leroy won't be embarrassing to you now because you knew it was a hoax....Oh, and also, congratulations for having a famous author for a husband. Because lord knows you wouldn't be able to publish mastabatory crap like this without his name attached to yours, and stories of trips with him to Rome within the content to remind your readers of your viewpoint's validity.


You should listen to your husband more often. He is the sane one in your family.


Congratulations on leading with an article so solipsistic, content-free, and unframed that it would do any teenager's first blog proud. Kindly give Mrs. Chabon* a LiveJournal account and spend my Premium member money on someone who can write. *

Normally I detest the Mrs. appellation, but in this case I suspect it's only because she is Mrs. Chabon that she's so often welcomed to contribute her maunderings. Which makes it all the more painful that Salon published a lead piece about one hoaxer with celebrity connections conning another.


And now I'll stop posting about this shit. Maybe.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

It's funny how movies you don't like sometimes leave much more of an imprint in your psyche than movies you love.

Noel Murray and Nathan Rabin talk about Woody Allen's Match Point over at The Onion's AV Club.

Andrew Bujalski (writer/director of Funny Ha Ha), has a new movie coming out, called Mutual Appreciation. He's profiled in the Times:

[Bujalski's protagonists] are the most unassuming of existentialist heroes, slouching toward not epiphanies but the tiniest shifts in perspective. Both [Funny Ha Ha and Mutual Appreciation] are slow-burning comedies about the fear of adulthood made by someone who isn't yet inclined to sentimentalize or belittle these threshold years.

...[T]he start-stop chatter in Mr. Bujalski's films is less arbitrary than it seems. A master of the mixed message and a veritable sculptor of dead air, he's deft at showing how inarticulateness can serve as defense tactic and passive-aggressive weapon.

Monday, January 09, 2006

So here's what I think of the insanity that Gawker is calling "Fake Writer Day."

[ if you're not up to speed and/or really want a headache, read these:
"Who is the Real JT Leroy?" New York Magazine, 10/17/05
"Who's that boy/girl?" The Guardian, 1/4/06
"The Unmasking of JT Leroy: In Public, He's a She," The New York Times, 1/9/06 ]

In these latest stories in the Guardian and the Times , Laura Albert sounds pretty unhinged, and also really sloppy about covering up or being consistent with what she says. I think she wanted to be caught.

That said, I don't really understand this obsession with finding out the truth about JT Leroy. I do think it reveals more about why we like the things we like, and the prejudices we bring to our readings, than any of us would like to admit. I don't want to think that people were interested in Leroy just because of his fucked up past, or that they let themselves be blown away by his writing because of who they thought he was, but I also think it's impossible for our knowledge of writers and artists' lives not to influence how we interpret their work. And I can't say I think this is necessarily a bad thing, even if it's not totally great.

I do think it's fucked up and manipulative that Leroy got people's sympathy (and their acclaim) by using a story that was not his (though this makes me wonder what stories we can actually claim as our own...). Plenty of people do have horrible stories and experiences, and do have AIDS, but do not have a network of celebrities supporting and promoting them. It worries me that people who do manage to have some degree of success or redemption despite the odds may be understood not as the exceptions to the rule that they are, but as examples of what can happen if people are motivated enough to pull themselves together (the consequence being that people in genuinely shitty situations get neither sympathy nor help).

This whole drama touches on some of the more fucked up issues of identity at stake in publishing. There's no question that it matters who you are (and what gender you are) when it comes to trying to sell a book. And this JT Leroy thing shows that there's clearly some privileging of the "authentic experience" in the same vein. This isn't to take any blame off of sketchy Laura Albert (it sure seems like this whole crazy multiple identity thing must be a hell of a way to live, and to have relationships) but it touches on a lot of interesting issues (and sore spots) about what matters to us when we decide to read a book, and then when we decide that we like it.

The other day I watched Funny Ha Ha, this tiny little indie movie about some people wandering around their early twenties. It was pretty good. There were moments that were excruciating, conversations that went nowhere but continued for waaaaay toooo loooong, but it did manage to capture a certain kind of ridiculousness while also pointing out the ridiculousness of the ridiculousness itself. You know? And it was so homemade, it felt like the film was spliced together at the kitchen table. It never felt like anyone was acting, but it also never felt like a documentary... it just kind of felt right, and so the infuriating pieces wouldn't have made sense if they had been less irritating.

Sometimes when I watch things like this I wonder why it's even fun to watch stupid scenarios that are really close to your own life acted out on screen. It's not like I really want to relive awkward conversations or drunken nights or bad dates or crappy jobs, or like I need to sit around watching the eerily similar tedium of someone else's life on a Friday night. Maybe it is just like watching a train wreck, and you can't look away. But it's not, because it's not actually that horrible. Is it kind of oddly comforting to know that your life can be approximated or portrayed with such accuracy? I don't know. It's not that I think we're always looking for mirrors of ourselves in art, but there's something satisfying about it when it's done right.

I felt this way about Jason Schwartzman's character in Shop Girl... he was so perfect(ly horrific) that it almost hurt, but it made me love the movie. Though that was different from Funny Ha Ha because the people in that movie were glamorous professional actors, so there was a level of detachment where you could just appreciate the artistry of the movie or the accuracy of the imitation. Where it could just be entertainment. In Funny Ha Ha, it just seemed like this is who these people were, that even if they were playing characters, their real lives were really similar to what they were acting out. Though there's obviously an artistry in that, too. Really, I think it must be hard to do that kind of acting, to know that you're essentially playing yourself, to carefully pause and scratch your nose and shift your weight and say "I don't know" a lot, in conscious imitation of yourself and all your dumb tics that your acting job means owning up to.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Check out Jen Miller's "Sex and the City Endurance Test" at Nerve, where she tries to watch all 96 episodes of the show in one sitting:

Lopi keeps threatening to leave, but because I fast-forward through the theme song, she stays. It gives her no time in between episodes to make a run for it before the next one sucks her in. She says that it's like crack, never having done crack.

Bruce agrees, having done crack.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

I'm a little behind in my reading of this weekend's Times, so I just noticed this piece in "Week in Review." Using the recent death of actor Vincent Schiavelli (who played Mr. Vargas in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and that really scary subway ghost in Ghost) as a jumping point, Peter Edidin writes sweetly about the memorable faces of Hollywood actors who are not conventionally attractive, and how they enhance our experience of a film: Mostly, of course, movies offer beautiful faces and construct fantasies around them. But other, more idiosyncratic images of humanity have always been present as well, and with them a more expansive vision of what it is to be human. He quotes Nancy Etcoff, a psychologist at Harvard Medical School and the author of "Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty": "Because we can't fit [these actors] into a mold," she added, "we have freer range to imagine who they are, so they can embody more complexity. Their features draw us in because we want to make sense of them."

How lovely. But what Edidin neglects to say (or does he not notice?) is that the actors whose "idiosyncratic" faces have enabled their successful careers in film are almost invariably men. Can you think of the female equivalent of Adam Sandler? Paul Giamatti? Billy Crystal? Michael Showalter? Jimmy Kimmel? Steve Buscemi? Even Nicholas Cage? What about Jack Nicholson, these days (and don't say Diane Keaton)? Many of these men are attractive, but they are allowed to be attractive by way of their distinctiveness, not after they meet certain standards.

Times film critic Manohla Dargis wrote an essay that ran in that paper about a year ago, called "One Word for What's Happening to Actors' Faces Today: Plastics." She argues that plastic surgery is altering one of the greatest landscapes in cinema: the human face without pretending that this isn't a gendered problem: Clearly, part of the blame for the spectacle of the post-human lies with the movie industry and its pernicious sexism; after all, Sean Penn wins awards with a face crosshatched with lines. But while it's easy to blame the industry, the entertainment media, the satellite industries and the stars themselves, let's face it: the other culprit, the faithful keeper of the cults of beauty and youth, is staring out at us in the mirror.

Plastic surgery preserves women's faces so that they look younger (and less complex, and therefore less human) sitting pretty across from their male counterparts. So maybe that explains it. Maybe film audiences (or more likely, the people who make and bankroll movies) don't want their female characters (or their movie-going experience) burdened by things like complexity. Laughing and frowning will both give a girl wrinkles. Better to remain neutral.

Regardless, I'm just sick of pieces like Edidin's, where the writer is oblivious to the things that influence the phenomenon he gets to lovingly relate. It suggests that his set of observations and experiences are the end of the story.

i love me some savage

From this week's "Savage Love":

Joking about Christianity isn't evidence that I'm intolerant—hell, I'm perfectly willing to tolerate Christians. I have never, for instance, attempted to prevent Christians from marrying each other, or tried to stop them from adopting children, or worked to make it illegal for them to hold certain jobs. I don't threaten to boycott companies that market their products to Christians, and I don't organize letter-writing campaigns to complain about Christian characters on television. It would indeed be hypocritical for me to complain about fundamentalist Christians who've done all of the above to gay people if I turned around and did the same thing to them, but I've done no such thing. Intolerant? Hell, I'm a model of tolerance! Oh sure, I joked about the Virgin Birth because I think it's silly and sexphobic. And I'm free to say as much, however unpleasant it is for some Christians to hear. Fundamentalist Christians, for their part, are free to think homosexuality is sinful and unnatural, and they're free to say so, however unpleasant it is for me to hear. But fundamentalists aren't willing to just speak their piece, Rob. Nope, they seek to persecute people for being gay, and that's where their low opinion of homosexuality—which, again, they have an absolute right to hold—transubstantiates into intolerance.

...and with this, my devotion to Dan Savage predictably carries on into 2006.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

buttercream frosting!

Birthdays are funny. Today I spent mine in an office all day, but because It Was My Birthday I gave myself permission to slack off and poke around the interweb for interesting things. Since I slack off at work pretty much every day, this didn't do much to help me feel like this day was different from all other days. But that's because it's not.

I'm really into all the reflection that comes along with The New Year, but only if it's the spontaneous kind. the mandated looking back and resolutions and shit are just gross. I was watching NY1 for a couple of minutes on new years eve, and the anchors were talking about some poll that asked people for their new year's resolutions, and the top 3 were: 1) make more money, 2) lose weight, and 3) spend more time with their families (that final one coming in a distant third, if I'm remembering right). Not that any of this is surprising. But it was sort of weird to hear it reported like that, against the background of the countdown to 2006. Sometimes that countdown feels like a promise, like a "new leaf" or whatever will be turned over and at least the first few minutes after midnight will be a breath of fresh air. Other times it almost feels threatening, letting you know exactly how long you have to get shit right in the year that's wrapping up before that book is closed forever, the history of 2005 written and done.

Anyway, I was thinking about this because this year at dinner on new year's eve the conversation turned at some point to what we were all doing on december 31st in years past. I'm the kind of person who thinks (too much) about that kind of thing anyway, and not just on new year's. But I like seeing other people do it, having some kind of occassion that makes people remember where they used to be. For a minute there I thought I'd lost 2001, but when I got home later and went through old notebooks trying to piece that time back together, I remembered that I spent that year at alice's, drinking too many margaritas and regretting it pretty quickly. Still, I just like to know. Even if my love of new year's is really just out of habit at this point.

So it was my birthday, and I was told offhand, in the annual kind of way, that I must be "older and wiser." I guess so. Last year on january 3rd I went out with jhon for the second time, and we sat at a little cafe sharing a piece of cake and staring at each other across the table. He bought me a copy of Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar, which was so sweet and smart, especially since we didn't know each other at all yet. I still haven't read that book, but notice it on my shelf occassionally and then let it nag at me for a little while.

Dorky as it sounds, this blog is kind of my birthday present to myself. I mean, it's about time. And I really truly will update it often. Promise.

Here's the monthly(ish) self-promotion segment... I have 3 new reviews online which I somehow managed to pull together while procrastinating about my grad school application. My column at Bookslut is about A Piece of Cake: Recipes for Female Sexual Pleasure and I also reviewed - more favorably - the surprisingly excellent Letters from Young Activists. Over at Grace is my review of Yiyun Li's A Thousand Years of Good Prayers. Since it was supposed to be a recommendation rather than a real review, I get through the whole thing without mentioning that I didn't like the book at all. I seem to be the only one on the planet not to. Ah, well.

And go read this: Anne Ishii's great essay in the Village Voice that pinpoints most of the problems I have with the movie Memoirs of a Geisha, but haven't really been able to explain. Oh, except for when I yelled at my family: "I just want to see a movie about women's lives that wasn't written by a man, and isn't about women fighting with each other and selling each other out for a man!" Yeah, there was that. So we went to see King Kong instead. And it kicked ass. At least the "man" in that movie was a giant gorilla.