Twitter me a Tweet, Boz

March 31, 2009 § Leave a comment

Dr Samuel Johnson and James Boswell walking up the High Street, Edinburgh, from a print by Thomas Rowlandson, 1786. "Mr Johnson and I walked Arm in Arm up the High Street to my House in James Court; it was a dusky night; I could not prevent his being assailed by the Evening effluvia of Edinburgh." As we marched along he grumbled in my ear "I smell you in the dark."

Dr Samuel Johnson and James Boswell walking up the High Street, Edinburgh, from a print by Thomas Rowlandson, 1786. "Mr Johnson and I walked Arm in Arm up the High Street to my House in James Court; it was a dusky night; I could not prevent his being assailed by the Evening effluvia of Edinburgh." As we marched along he grumbled in my ear "I smell you in the dark."

I read that celebrities are now hiring people to ghostwrite their twitter entries. I don’t mean ‘now hiring’ as in send in your resume. I’m sure they have the requisite flunkies on hand, or if they didn’t before the Times piece, they do now. Young assistant or actual freelance writer composes, publicist OKs, star is informed of what he/she said if it has any likelihood of ever being quoted, and all the little people realize that access to the real private lives of the famous is not in fact available at the click of a mouse. You still have to put the hours in. Stalking is not a lazy man’s art.

Social networks are for our own grubby networking (and fun, yes, that too) and I’m not expecting to network with movie stars or Barack Obama. I know I’m the perfect person to help him with the new book; he may be a fantastic writer but he’s kind of busy these days. I could bring that rare “I’m not a speechwriter” quality to the manuscript, but I doubt Twitter will land me an interview. Maybe if I saved one of his kids from drowning? Oh yeah, they already have people for that. And it’s too late to become a dog psychic. That’s the sort of business you have to start when people are itching to get rid of their cash and the dog won’t eat it.

The Times quoted 50 Cent’s twitter (something he actually said in an interview; his assistant plucked it for a tweet): “My ambition leads me through a tunnel that never ends.”

We could all use that sentiment, and that sentence, with a little tweaking.

“My sex addiction leads me through strange vaginas that never end.”

“My nostalgia leads me through a fictitious youth that never returns.”

“My mother-in-law leads me through a wilderness of stories that never discover their point though they do grow fainter when I leave the room.”

“My blogging leads me into digressions where I have to confess a lot more than I might otherwise in order to make the entry flow, so if I mention you and you don’t like it, send me a rewrite and I’ll consider it.”*

  • This is not a paid position.

I find I journalize too tediously. Let me try to abbreviate.

~James Boswell

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And Paint My Breasts Blue

March 27, 2009 § Leave a comment

Hieronymus BoschI’m not going to Florida after all. Not now, anyway. Charles isn’t certain how long his job will last. I’m both relieved and disappointed. I like feeling that I still have my city, even if I don’t know how to afford it, but I miss the idea of escape, of being in another quieter place for a long time. I miss the prospect of living with my dear, delightful husband again. I’m very tired of loneliness and simply seeing more people more often doesn’t cut it. Social life is work. I like domestic codependence with a man, which I was having on weekends this winter with Philip. That’s not all good nor is it easy but it comes to me naturally, just like some people are talented at jiving strangers out of fortunes.

I can’t go into the reasons why Philip will be relatively inaccessible for the foreseeable future, except to say that it’s not under his control, and if I don’t like the extent to which he’s responded to the situation, I have to admit it’s entirely in character and most people would say good character.

My view is more nuanced, which is a nuanced way of saying selfish. Let’s face it: I respect his choice,  and my rage is like a wall of fire. Except that I’m not charred and dead, and the furniture looks untouched, so I guess it isn’t really. That was the image that came to mind though, yellow flame 20 feet high, no wider than a bedsheet, what any demon worth her salt could throw out with a flick of a taloned hand if she were pissed. And then shrug if the humans got upset, saying, “What do you expect? I’m a demon.”

I can tell you one thing: writing supernatural fiction isn’t nearly as cathartic as reading it. Too much lowly human labor, too much, “You have to write even if you don’t feel like it, bitch,” (said to self), and most of all the curse of all writers of a certain age: the awareness that no matter how well crafted a story may be, what illusions it can create in the target brains, words are still lifeless.

We know it; you don’t.

Humans have a hard time believing anything is lifeless. I read a story in New Scientist about money’s wily power. People who have had  their hands burned in boiling water report their pain lessened if they’re handed a few bills. The lonely feel less so. Those asked to make sentences out of ‘money’ words (‘salary’, ‘pay’, etc), rather than out of neutral words, reveal in a follow up, difficult puzzle-game more reluctance to ask for help, even though they’re allowed to, and more reluctance to offer it to others when asked.

Not that this should surprise anyone. We all understand the movie images of criminals rolling in their leaf-pile of cash, laughing or kissing in wild good humor as the green notes flutter, and the subsequent scenes where they get suspicious and proceed to kill each other. The classic end for such a story is all the people dead, knives sprouting from chests, brains splattered against the wall—and on the bed, the pile of money untouched by blood, waiting in deceptive stillness for its next victims.

It’s hard not to be interested in what stories are going to come from this economic swoon. Crimes, heroism, religious conversions, and everyone’s favorite: the next great invention, produced by those creative geniuses previously shacked to remunerative work. But my natural curiosity has been quelled somewhat by what I’ve been reading lately about threats entirely likely and infinitely more dire than the last 6 months (not climate change or suitcase nukes). I won’t inflict them on you, at least not until tomorrow or next week.

I’m taking comfort from the idea that if Charles’s company goes under, he’ll visit me a lot more often. I can visit him too—in the nudist colony where he’ll share a doublewide with his brother. He says the middle-aged and old ladies shave their crotches there, just like young women do nowadays. I’ll feel like a savage. Maybe I can figure out how to grow it to my knees. And paint my breasts blue.

****

I have never walked down Fifth Avenue alone without thinking of money.

~Anthony Trollope

 

 

OVERHEARD IN NEW YORK

 

Hobo: Any change? Anything you got to give?

Suit: I wish I had something to give, but pretty soon, I’m going to be like you.

Hobo: My man, you cannot be this awesome.

–Bleecker & Lafayette

 

 

The faces in New York remind me of people who played a game and lost.

~Murray Kempton 

 

No one as yet had approached the management of New York in a proper spirit; that is to say, regarding it as the shiftless outcome of squalid barbarism and reckless extravagance. No one is likely to do so, because reflections on the long narrow pig-trough are construed as malevolent attacks against the spirit and majesty of the American people, and lead to angry comparisons.

~Rudyard Kipling 

 

In New York it’s not whether you win or lose–it’s how you lay the blame.

~Fran Lebowitz

Teeth

March 25, 2009 § 1 Comment

Sabertooth skull

Sabertooth skull

Yesterday, I was just getting a start on sorting my clothes (Florida, Philip’s apartment, storage, Housing Works), and thinking the dizzy wanting-to-lie-down feeling was emotional, until the toothache that’s been bothering me mostly at night—taking hideous, pus-and-beetle shapes in my dreams—hit me with a full body infection.

I have an appointment with the dentist later, the ever-chirpy Tim who makes me long for the wild-eyed dentists of fiction who entertain you in their backyard, wearing white flannels and drinking gin and tonics, as they dose you liberally with laughing gas, then tie the tooth to a back bumper of a motorcycle driven by a maniacal 13 year old.

Human teeth are so pitiful. It’s no wonder the young girls and menopausal women of America are mooning over Stephanie Meyer’s and Charlaine Harris’s vampires. We’ve all known the bliss of clean white canines sinking into our adoring flesh—1/8 of an inch in, anyway, with your average non-psychotic house cat.

Cats know how pretty their teeth are and that you want to be bitten by them, if not actually hurt or eaten. They’ll let you kiss them on the lips, though they prefer not to. And surely you’ve noticed how leisurely they yawn, allowing you a good look.

To prepare for the unpleasantness of the dentist’s chair, I’ve been reading about an old favorite of mine—the sabertooth cat, aka sabertooth tiger though they’re not ‘tigers’ or even very tiger-like, so we can’t call them that anymore.

The first thing I learned is that the sabertooth is the California State Fossil. I didn’t realize states had official fossils and many do not. (Florida, for example doesn’t. One website whines that the state stone—agatized coral—is really a fossil, but there’s no need to be defensive. Florida has a very apt state mammal: the cougar.)

Sabertooths were native to North America and were especially fond of L.A. Roughly the size of an African lion, though up to 50 % heavier, the sabertooth wasn’t a running, pouncing beast but a compact, rugged predator of slow-moving meat-farms like mammoths, mastadons and ground sloths. Its lower jaw could swing to almost a right angle when opened to attack—getting the jaw out of the way of the long canines. The lower jaw was fairly puny, like a screen door.

Big cats generally kill by strangling their prey, which takes a few minutes, as anyone who’s watched PBS lion kills can attest to. Since the sabertooth’s lower jaw muscles were probably too weak to strangle, or to provide the anchoring needed to bite through bone, scientists have concluded that the cat used its considerable upper-body strength to wrestle prey to the ground, then stabbed its canines into the throat, cutting through the jugular vein and/or trachea. This quick back-alley slashing helped protect the glorious teeth, which were thicker from front to back than from side to side, like knives resting on their points, and thus vulnerable to being snapped off under pressure.

The sabretooth’s nasal openings were further back than they are in modern cats, allowing the cat to continue breathing while its head was buried inside its victim. It’s sobering to realize many sabertooths must have drowned in blood before evolution worked that out. Complex analysis having to do with plant fossils in tar pits, where many sabertooths ended up,  suggest the sabertooth had a dappled coat like a leopard. But this is pure speculation as is the claim that for fun the young cats liked to suck up blood from dying mastadons and spray it on cave walls in an activity yet to be known as art.

Kindling

March 24, 2009 § Leave a comment

Jeff Bezos at a tender age

Jeff Bezos at a tender age

The Times had a piece today about a medical student, Satre Stuelke, who’s been doing CT scans of ‘cultural icons’ like iphones and Barbie dolls so I clicked on the pix to see what my inner iphone looked like. I wasn’t impressed. The CT scan of my husband’s head done years ago was way more interesting, making me think that perhaps humans were not descended from apes but horses.*

They didn’t include a Kindle in the slide show but I know what I’d find if I looked inside, since it’s not thick enough for circuitry: relics from famous authors, a bone, a tuft of hair, sprinkled with fairy dust or holy water, depending on the writer, and lashed to service by the stern mumbo jumbo of somebody contemporary and prize-heavy like Ian McEwan.

The Kindle is re-igniting my buying lust. I’d gotten sick of accumulating things. Now I can surf at midnight and in an instant have one of thousands of books, at a steep discount. Last night I bought a fantasy novel for 00.00 cents. It’s a loss leader, the beginning of a series, similar to the $1.69 Face yogurt Trader Joe’s was selling until yesterday when they upped it to $4.99 and I swore never to shop there again.

Before that, I had a birthday gift certificate to use up. So I haven’t actually spent any of my own money. Of course, it’s only been a little over a week.

People like looking at my Kindle. It’s a strangely naked feeling, letting someone play with it and see the 3 or 4 books I’ve bought. I’m used to my formidable library presenting evidence of how much great literature and serious nonfiction I’ve read. While my Kindle has on it…well, never mind.

One answer for this is to jettison anything embarrassing after reading. And if you should want to re-read, being in the same low-brain-cell mood? Amazon has developed a system, intended to keep you from overloading your Kindle’s memory, that enables you to delete a book from the device while amazon keeps a record of your past purchase, and lets you download it again—only to the same Kindle, naturally—anytime you want, free. It’s your very own secret (from your friends) online library, pristine and climate controlled in Jeff Bezos’ paternal embrace.**

Some people will have privacy concerns about the non-friends with access, although purchase records are already being kept by amazon (and everyone else), so it’s a little late to worry.  But the things I read will not land me in jail or even banned from teaching in the Texas public school system. What I write is more likely to get me in trouble. I’ve been considering this—reading recent wordpresss posts about people losing jobs after twittering—and though the particular mistake highlighted (slamming a prospective employer online) is not one I’m likely to make, I can think of lots of blog scenarios causing more than personal-life ill effects.

But of course I can. I wouldn’t be a fiction writer dabbling in fantasy if I couldn’t conjure doom at will and festoon it with comic grotesquerie.

The more important lesson for me is the one I learned in group therapy: while you struggle to confess your agonizing, shameful secret, the one that will make people mock you and shun you forever, your listener is tapping her feet and mentally sticking her fingers in her ears so she won’t forget the radioactive, brontosaurus-sized secret she needs you to shut the fuck up and pay reverent attention to.

*He had blinding headaches, which they decided were migraine since they couldn’t find anything wrong. I’m still suspicious since it was right after that that he started making lots more money.

** Part of what attracted me to amazon in the late ‘90’s was the name. Then I take a look at Jeff Bezos (most recently on Jon Stewart). Smart guy, sure. Making a bundle on the Kindle. But an amazon he’s not. This is a question probably answered somewhere long ago—but was he the rare lad who ignored Batman and The Incredible Hulk, reading Wonder Woman comics at night under the covers?

wonder_woman122

Going South

March 23, 2009 § Leave a comment

dunes

On November 5, in Union Square, there were tee shirts, sweatshirts and buttons proclaiming: Change has come. Well I guess so.

I’m moving to Florida soon, unless money starts falling from the sky. It’s kind of exciting when I forget about sorting and packing and leaving New York—my city, the only city I’ll ever call home—leaving Philip and my friends. I’ve been here 25 years, but before that I moved around a lot.

The sun, the beach. The quiet. Not having to live alone anymore. These are good things. I can put my mind there, but I’m not there yet. I don’t want to sort and pack, sell and give away, go to my various doctors to get the questionable bits checked, or do my taxes. I want to lie on my bed in the spring sunlight, my laptop radiating through the pillow it rests on, write and surf. I want to enjoy what I have while it’s still here—take walks in the neighborhood, go to museums, have dinners with friends.

And though I kind of want to go, I really don’t want to leave. I’m angry at the world, which could care less. I was angry at myself, but that was unproductive. To be angry at the financiers, Wall Street and the banks, Bush and Greenspan—why bother? It’s not like I’m waiting outside a cold prison in Russia to hear any scrap of news of my beloved. I’m not in an Iraqi marketplace looking at bloody body parts flung among the vegetables. It can always be worse until you’re dead and opinions differ as to whether it can get worse then.

Personally, I’d prefer no afterlife. It’s hard enough moving to another state. Dead, I wouldn’t know anybody and the jackals would sniff me out. People like to say all your loved ones—like my departed brother—come to greet you, but how likely is that? My living brother won’t even come to New York.

I’m going to Florida as everyone else flees. Land of abandoned houses (some now home to colonies of bees), hurricanes, highways, strip malls, Republicans. At least my vote will count more.

There’s no income tax in Florida. No 20° weather, no 4 a.m. drunks fighting or singing under my window. And in June, in New York, the subway fare’s going up 50 cents, with likely worse to follow.

Worse to follow in Florida too, no doubt. But if the system collapses, as so many like to predict, and the seas rise and eat the beaches just to make sure we get the message, I’ll move inland and live in a crumbling lego house with the bees.

Or not. But no afterlife. Seriously. Give mine to somebody’s cat.

***

“I am going to St, Petersburg, Florida, tomorrow. Let the worthy citizens of Chicago get their liquor the best they can. I’m sick of the job–it’s a thankless one and full of grief. I’ve been spending the best years of my life as a public benefactor.” ~Al Capone

“I turned my home state of Florida into the Land of Xanth. “~Piers Anthony

“Xanth is a land of centaurs, dragons and basilisks, where every citizen has a special spell only he or she can cast.”~narrativeandontology.blogspot.com


Always on my Mind

March 22, 2009 § 1 Comment

tree

Death has been on my mind. Natasha’s Richardson’s accident was heartbreaking; a close friend of mine was working with a member of her family, which is not much of a connection but it lit up my own memories of her performances. I also saw Liam Neeson on Jon Stewart a few months ago, and went through the requisite envy—Natasha Richardson has everything—that one remembers at moments like this.

The flip side of that is I’ve been feeling desperately unhappy about my own life: a stalled career, no money, a 9 year love affair that is a perpetual misery machine shot with moments of transcendent joy, hours of quiet happiness—the seductions that keep one from turning off the machine.

I have health, loving friends and family, brains and talent. Nonetheless, there’s a part of me that thinks: I know nothing of Natasha Richardson’s inner life, but if it matched what one saw from the outside, 45 years of that seems better than 145 of my own life.

This isn’t about fame or a sexy movie star husband. It’s about depression, which has systematically wrecked the many opportunities I’ve had. It’s about my father, who taught me that the way you deal with severe pain is to kill yourself. My mother taught me that you deal with it by tapping your inner strength, and that’s what I’ve been doing for 54 years. The appeal of my father’s way is you don’t have to keep doing it over and over. I remember a little wooden placard he had, the kind you buy at a tacky gift shop. Written on it was, “If at first you don’t succeed, to hell with it.”

I was struck by that not just because it appealed to a kid’s natural anti-piety, but because it seemed so in character for him, and I hadn’t consciously recognized that part of his character before. My father rarely talked to me so any tidbit I learned about him was powerful. Any connection was powerful. I didn’t believe in that slogan, and still don’t: I’m more of the school that if you don’t succeed after trying for 54 years, you should strongly consider saying to hell with it.

I’m not talking about my particular goals. I know I didn’t try hard enough in my career, didn’t do what people told me to do and what I told myself to do. I didn’t try hard enough to walk away from a hopeless romance. (No, not hopeless. I can’t even say that now. Seemingly hopeless.) But the reason I didn’t wasn’t laziness, though I have more than my share of that, but depression. I’ve never liked that word, but none of the good words—despair, anguish, terror—carry the same implication of longlastingness. I have to trust you know the ferocity and multi-dimensional nature of the beast. I’ve spent at least half my life’s energy fighting it. When I read about women juggling family and career, I relate. Tending to the demands of relentless needy creatures is wearying.

Everybody’s beast is different, though, and what I can say about mine is that it’s never been that flat, affectless grey goo that so many people describe. I’ve been in that place, now and then. It was restful. Not pleasant, but restful. But I can see why it results in suicide so often. If nothing is reliably differentiated from any other thing, even death loses its mystique and becomes as harmless-looking as a sleeping pill.

Death has never looked harmless to me. I first encountered it as a murderer taking those I loved. I’ve never gone a week without moments of joy or contentment, without appreciation of the beauty of the world that death will steal from me, sooner or later. So I have to do things my mother’s way and manage to enjoy life even though the demonspawn upstairs are going crazy and may soon erupt.

You know language is inadequate when this translates as ‘hope.’

Stimulate Me

March 20, 2009 § Leave a comment

cash2I wasn’t going to write about the AIG mess because everybody has, and I imagine readers are sick of it. But I can’t write about my personal life because it makes me weep and want to bite chunks out of my arms and legs, and my mind’s closed like a clam to to all to wonderful curious things of the world. So, politics. I keep thinking of something Philip said: that Obama was correct in focusing on the bank bailout, that Geithner would survive, and all this hysteria was inevitable and had to be both given room and ignored. “What nobody understands about politics,” he said, “is that you have to allow the populist rage. But you don’t have to react to it.”

Obama is reacting to the rage, but as minimally as he can get away with. He’s doing his best to keep the love (Jay Leno loves him). Congress gets to play the Big Stupid, as it does so well. I can’t imagine how the 90% tax plan will survive legal challenge, but maybe nobody will challenge it. Maybe the death threats will convince enough executives to give back their bonuses. Too bad Rahm can’t deliver the threats himself.

Meanwhile, AIG is suing the IRS for taxes it paid and now says it doesn’t owe. It’s one of those fights that normally would be way under the radar, but nothing AIG and its companion losers do can be under the radar now. Maybe they don’t need million dollar executives. Maybe they need a good PR guy. I know one who’d work for 250k. Although, now that I think about it, he probably wouldn’t take a job at AIG.  It’s kind of like working for the Treasury. You have to be really smart and accomplished to be considered, but if you are those things, why walk into the shit?

I’m disappointed in Geithner but I haven’t given up all hope. I still trust that Obama knows a little more than I do. In any case, you can’t expect the capitalist system to transform—which is happening—without a lot of battle and mess. The astrologers say: the last time Pluto was in the place in the sky was during the American Revolution. I don’t think we have the spine for a revolution but maybe this time we can manage change without bloodshed. (In the U.S. I mean. Other countries have it rougher.)

For the record I’m a rationalist who likes to read books about how we deceive ourselves by not understanding the mechanics of chance and coincidence, and so imagine patterns and forces when none exist, and books about the evolutionary basis of religion—at the same time, I love to read Michael Lutin. *

As Scott Fitzgerald said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” That works for me. He went on to say, “One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise.” So, not quite applicable to my point—I’ll have to find another quote to bolster my split-brain problem—but very much to the current situation.

*Vanity Fair astrologer, website wheresthemoon.com

Obama’s a Leo. Where he is this week, according to Lutin:
“In order to be the creative genius you’d like to be remembered as, you have to smash a few rules once in a while and take a few risks that could put in jeopardy everything you have been trying to build and preserve for ages. On the other hand, when you hear the drums beating and the call of the wild night birds, can you really turn up the TV and pretend you don’t have those urges and yearnings?”

I thought it was me hearing the wild night birds. I guess I was just dreaming.

Btw—all those states rejecting stimulus money: I’ll take it. I’ll spread it around. I know lots of good hardworking, people who need a jolt, a little spring of excitement as the bank account zooms.

Where Am I?

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