<= 2002.06

2002.09 =>

[AUGUST 2002.]

on idleness

I am waking up too late in the mornings. I blame Nik's trampoline. He has a marvelous trampoline in his backyard with a diameter of perhaps fifteen feet, and it always begins with Nik and Eric and I going out around midnight to lie on our backs on the trampoline, which gives under you slightly like a hammock, but soon one of us (often me) will be unable to resist the urge to get up and start jumping, which causes everyone else to bounce perilously.

"Excuse me," says Nik, "I'd like to smoke this cigarette with my mouth, not my eye."

"Right. Sorry."

And then we start talking about, I don't know, the bit in Exodus where God threatens to show Moses his back parts, and then somehow it is three in the morning.

I don't know how well The World Anthem works out in practice, but I'm thinking in visual metaphors: you mix together 193 colors of paint, you get sludge. I suppose everyone's official music must use the Western scale these days, which is too bad—quarter tones don't get the attention they deserve.

Yeah, Americans are said to love big cars, the dumb Yanks. The BBC has to run something like this about three times a week, and it doesn't even know how fucked its grammar is.

He decried America's throw-away society and it's [sic] "bigger is better" ethos, whether it was the cars they [sic] drive or the large McMansions they [sic] build. He pointed to the large sport utility vehicles rounding Washington's Dupont Circle. "The SUV is the status vehicle to have right now," he said. "It just burns gas."

 

hello sailor

Zork kicked our asses last night. We had gotten through about 90 percent of the game, had explored the entire realm, and knew exactly what remained to be done—but we couldn't make the diamond because the screwdriver had gone missing. We spent a good ninety minutes walking around and looking for the screwdriver before we gave up. It was just like real life.

Francine Prose has a new book out—given the popularity of her seminar last year at Iowa, I'd expect her nonfiction to far outclass, say, Blue Angel. The subject here is the muse.

It is Ms. Prose's conviction that every historical period "endows the muse with the qualities, virtues and flaws that the epoch and its artists need and deserve," and it's clear that the muses in this volume have been chosen quite deliberately to illustrate this thesis. "In 18th-century London," she writes, "where Samuel Johnson's fame relied on a conjunction of an eloquent prose style and dazzling social skills, Mrs. Hester Thrale—a sharp-tongued, lively, intelligent woman married to a rich brewer who gave lavish dinner parties at which his wife and Dr. Johnson could talk—functioned as the muse of literature and of conversation. The Victorian Muses—Alice Liddell, Lizzie Siddal—come to us trailing clouds of innocence, naïveté and repression, as well as various unsavory Victorian fantasies about children and young women."

As for more modern muses like Gala Dalí, who stage-managed the career of her husband, Salvador, with an eye toward accruing money and fame, and Yoko Ono, who assumed control over the business affairs of her husband, John Lennon, they seem peculiarly suited to an age attuned to "the commercial benefits of commodifying the celebrity artist."

For that matter, the concept of a muse has become increasingly outdated—at odds with both modern feminism and Freudian thought, as the dance critic Arlene Croce has pointed out—and subject to comical send-ups, like the one in Mr. Brooks's movie. "Perhaps psychology has convinced us that the human psyche is too complex to derive something so tough and enduring as art from something so fragile and transitory as love," Ms. Prose writes. Indeed, she suggests that our culture has perhaps reached the point where "nearly anything—geography, ambition, expensive tastes, an abusive childhood, poverty—seems a more probable motivation for making art than the promptings of longing or love."

Hands up on ambition, expensive tastes, and poverty, everyone. How could writing possibly get you love?

 

eroica

And despite last year's lessons, we're building new Saudi Arabias just as fast as we can find them.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States began quietly to build influence in the area. Washington established significant military-to-military relationships with Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Soldiers from those countries have been trained by Americans. Uzbekistan alone will receive $43 million in U.S. military aid this year.

Oil and gas have also enhanced the region's strategic value. Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan sit atop vast quantities of both. "We have an enormous economic and energy stake in this country," said a senior U.S. official in Kazakhstan. "It's part of our national energy strategy." By 2015, Kazakhstan and its Caspian neighbors could make up one of the world's most important sources of oil, the official said.

Though all five governments have embraced the outward symbols of democracy - elections, legislatures, courts of law and constitutions - none practices authentic democracy. All have preserved powerful, KGB-like political police forces. When elections are held, presidents win nearly all the votes, and serious opposition candidates are routinely banned. American diplomats have tried to convince Central Asian presidents that "winning an election with 60 percent of the vote is just as good as winning with 90 percent," one senior official said, but "they just can't internalize that point. They are complete control freaks."

Also, plans are in development for a solemn 11 September. I sure am going to have a shitty birthday.

Lord Love a Duck (1966). IMDB's plot outline ("Nerdy high school student tries to make dreams of beautiful girl come true," etc.) completely fails to capture what this movie is about. Nik claims it's a sort of proto-Rushmore, and one can see the resemblances. I'm still amazed that it got made.
—"We do not call it 'botany!' We call it 'Plant Skills for Life!'... Pistils? Stamens? Get your mind out of the gutter, man!"
—A solid 15-20 minutes of plot revolve around cashmere sweaters, most of that being taken up with shots of Barbara Ann and her father laughing hysterically while tossing cashmere sweaters into the air.
—The worst-choreographed martial arts scene ever cannot fail to charm; nor can the worst-ever-executed special effect of characters being tossed into the air by construction equipment.

Veganerotica.com ("passion for the compassionate") sells "hand-crafted vegan bondage gear, whips, belts, harnesses, and other vegan leather (a.k.a. 'pleather') items. We also sell vegan condoms and other sex products."

 

bucephalus

The existence of Lotion dropped into my universe with a chance Google search last night. Turns out that Thomas Pynchon is one of their more outspoken fans (insofar as Pynchon can be outspoken about anything); he wrote the liner notes for their Nobody's Cool LP. Their touring credentials (Pavement, Throwing Muses, Mercury Rev) are also impeccable.

The New Yorker talks to Mr. Eggers about his forthcoming novel in a really irritatingly small font—someone should tell them about that. Based on the excerpt from the magazine's print version, I rather suspect that Eggers doesn't have the goods as a fiction writer—he's perpetuating the Heartbreaking Work formula of being young, flippant, and morally confused in the wake of tragedy, but as the tragedy is now a made-up tragedy the whole thing seems patently artifical and shallow. In a way, he might have shot himself in the foot by writing a memoir first; it allowed him to become this dual celebrity of Eggers the character/Eggers the author, but now when we read the adventures of a fictional Eggers stand-in it's hard not to see it as a pale reflection.

Do you want a giant Alexander the Great head carved into a Greek mountain? The Greeks are uneasy about it, and one can only imagine Macedonia's shit fit.

Re: Amina Lawal (the Nigerian woman whom the fundamentalist Shariah throwbacks are trying to stone), you can sign Amnesty International's letter of protest.

 

o whacking day

The other day Peyton gave me a heads-up on the aquatic ape theory, which I am now proud to bring to you.

Among the hundreds of living primate species, only humans are naked. Two kinds of habitat are known to give rise to naked mammals—a subterranean one or a wet one. There is a naked Somalian mole rat which never ventures above ground. All other non-human mammals which have lost all or most of their fur are either swimmers like whales and dolphins and walruses and manatees, or wallowers like hippopotamuses and pigs and tapirs. The rhinoceros and the elephant, though found on land since Africa became drier, bear traces of a more watery past and seize every opportunity of wallowing in mud or water.

[...]

One hypothesis used to be that they first developed big brains and began to make tools, and finally walked on their hind legs to free their hands for carrying weapons. But we now know that it was bipedalism that came first, before the big brain and tool-making.

However, if their habitat had become flooded, they would have been forced to walk on their hind legs whenever they came down to the ground in order to keep their heads above water. The only animal which has ever evolved a pelvis like ours, suitable for bipedalism, was the long-extinct Oreopithecus, known as the swamp ape.

Today, two primates when on the ground stand and walk erect somewhat more readily than most other species. One, the proboscis monkey, lives in the mangrove swamps of Borneo. The other is the bonobo or pygmy chimpanzee; its habitat includes a large tract of seasonally flooded forest, which would have covered an even more extensive area before the African climate became drier.

And so on. This site contrasts aquatic ape theory with other theories, including that of a variegated "mosaic" savannah habitat; the best part is a hypothetical day in the life of Australopithecus mosaicensis:

A snake is found by a child, who screams and points. The women and children gather round and beat it with sticks.

The larger hunters return, and make their bipedal displays, causing the women hand over the fruit. The hunters tuck in, magnanimously sharing the feast with their mates, reinforcing the pair bonding.

 

the leonard bernstein bears

From kidchamp: the magic of the Internet has allowed Steven McDonald to become the White Stripes' uninvited bassist. Yes! Now I will take the "Little Tykes" toy xylophone/piano that Eric found the other day at the swap meet, and I will digitally splice myself into OK Computer. Too bad it only plays in C.

All my local friends have gone to school and here I am in my shorts, in my bedroom, with my view of the jagged mountains. Everything is so new out here—and I don't mean the comparatively recent settlement of the American West, I mean the land itself. The cliffs are so sharp you could cut your finger on them. It seems that the upheaval and landslide that birthed them occurred only yesterday. Land farther east is soft with eons of erosion, rich and moist from a million disintegrated generations of life. Out here it's God's tabula rasa. You could imagine that fifty years ago he wiped the land bare to sharp rock, then seeded it sparsely, with spiny plants, and let it start up again: minimalist Eden. The desert doesn't promise much, but it never lies to you.

 

navigation

James A. Baker III wants to take out Iraq but not go it alone. Everyone from that administration must labor beneath a constant crushing sense of unfinished business. And I have my own analog; it has been a blessing to return home and find old friends, exciting and creative people still, but suddenly I am dividing my time between a welter of writing projects, music projects, a new embryonic film project—not to mention everything I have conceived but not yet started, like the literary text adventure or the Chinese landscape painting of the Catalinas—and an incredible dilution of energy has resulted. Nabokov mentions the "discomfort... to live in my workshop among discarded limbs and unfinished torsos," and do we ever know that around here. I need to pull back, retrench, and plow through the novel for a bit. I'm losing guidance.

 

vinca

The schientific schtudy of schadenfreude.

"Part of our mind knows we've never met Martha Stewart, but another part thinks she's part of our small social world," Professor Tooby said. "You see them on TV. You think you know them."

"The glee against Martha Stewart," Professor Tooby said, "is because there's something slightly grating about the socially competitive way she goes about telling you how you should live." Her implicit message is, he said, "You might attain something above where you presently are but not above me."

Right, they're removing the weapons-grade uranium from Yugoslavia, thank the Lord. May we all sleep a little better.

 

rock and roll high school

 

virgil's laboratory

Re: literary text adventures, nGaw points me to the 1984 Brøderbund game Mindwheel, which was written by Robert Pinsky, of all people (review; walkthrough/puzzle spoilers). Sounds like the "electronic novel" aspect and the "interactivity" aspect don't mesh as well as they should.

The Muddy Bug website is here for now until we iron out the problem with getting muddybug.com to point there. I haven't played a gig in two and a half years—wish me luck.

(Flyer design by Nik.)

 

cheap sex & sad films

A sadness: I have lost all of the computer games I wrote in BASIC at age twelve or so. There was an ASCII video game where you were the smiley face and shot periods to kill malevolent asterisks and section symbols; there was also a text adventure game along the lines of Zork which, in a burst of pre-adolescent originality, I named "Quaz." I don't remember much about it except that an integral part was played by a cow pie, which was naturally too gross to pick up with your hands; I think you had to use a shovel that you found in a tree. Also there was a mountain lion. Alas, it is forever gone.

At any rate, clearly the only solution is to write another text game. One possibility is BASIC (or more likely C, since I'm a big boy now); another is Inform, an interactive fiction design system which I have not yet closely examined. What I'm wondering is whether, after having been through the crucible of Iowa, I might be able to knock together a game with some degree of literary merit—even if it's necessarily merit of the pulp sort. The few examples of "hyperfiction" that I've seen have been rather dry, crafted by university professors, and entirely too much in love with their own postmodernity. For example, Terry Harpold, the author of a tome entitled Links and their Vicissitudes: Essays on Hypertext, writes in Norton's anthology of postmodern fiction:

In other words, in a text like afternoon [the portentously named hypertext under study] it is possible only to arrive at a contingent conclusion. Any ending will be marked by the punctuality of interruption. (Thus the purest paradigm of a hypertext ending: you can just stop reading, decide that you have had enough, get up from the computer and walk away.) But you can't come to a definitive ending within the universe of the text.

And we wonder why hypertext remains a curiosity—who wants to spend an hour clicking around like a jackass without a complete and coherent narrative as a reward? This is why Zork is far superior. It has no pretensions toward being a "text" of any sort—it's just a game—but it's fun. Might there be a middle ground?

 

we have sciatica

Here's another Postmodern Big Novel with a fairly obvious debt to Pynchon. Suddenly everyone feels entitled to write these.

Zephine Humphrey, Cactus Forest. I found this at Acorn Books in San Francisco, and it is indeed a Tome That Time Forgot—mine is a first edition from 1938, and for all I know it may be the last edition as well. Google returns precisely one match. Zephine and her husband are native Vermonters, but the husband's sciatica forces a relocation to the middle of Nowhere, Arizona. This being 1938, basically all of Arizona was Nowhere. The tone can be overly cutesy, she shamelessly uses sentence fragments, and our local deconstructionists would have a field day with her descriptions of the Mexicans; nevertheless I enjoyed it, largely because the casual narration afforded a time-warp effect of actually speaking with someone from the thirties. There's also plenty of local interest in seeing just what the state was like.

But in Arizona books are negligible. The libraries are few and poor, the bookshops are generally run in connection with some more popular industry and display only a meager assortment of the best sellers of national repute. It is of course true that we in the East are apt to read far too much. It is also true that the habit of contemplation induced by the desert is more valuable for soul growth than the habit of intellectual curiosity. A few really good books, carefully read in the desert, with long pauses between the pages, nourish the reader better than a dozen volumes rapidly skimmed. Nevertheless, there is a lack here which the New Englander feels, an indifference to, an ignorance of, interests which he takes for granted among his comrades at home. It is a shock to converse with an intelligent Arizonan and suddenly find that he has never heard of, say, Edwin Arlington Robinson.

I thought I had never heard of Edwin Arlington Robinson until Google informed me that he's the one who wrote "Miniver Cheevy." Probably Arizona could live without that.

Because of the spread of irrigation and of paved roads, the various forms of cactus growth are imperiled. In a shop window on the main street of Florence was a conspicuous placard which we often pondered. It displayed a picture of a large sahuaro and, underneath it, bore a printed paragraph to the effect that the giant cactus is more and more giving place to fields of melons, lettuce, artichokes, celery, and other crops necessary to man's sustenance. The inference being of course that sahuaros are not necessary. But why not? Surely the Arizona landscape would lose its most salient charm if these strange plants no longer raised their grotesque arms against the jagged hills and the hot sky. They accent the desert. As for this "more and more" business, the Chambers of Commerce assert that a huge percentage of Arizona's financial budget is balanced by tourists from the East. And these tourists assuredly do not travel across the continent to gaze enraptured at fields of radishes.

Zephine would be happy to know that all kinds of stringent conservation measures are in place these days, including a requirement that saguaros at any site slated for development must be transplanted rather than razed. There are still swaths of virgin desert up here in the foothills, but new structures are going up all the time; as a result of the transplantation law, impromptu saguaro forests will appear beside construction sites before the plants are moved elsewhere. Exhibit A is the shopping center they're building a hundred yards down from my apartment.

 

shariah

I have been fighting the netfuckingwork all day and quite literally have done nothing else—it's now 8 p.m. and I have yet to shower—but we now have cable modem in the apartment, rah rah. I actually drove Linksys tech support to their wits' end; after sixty minutes on the phone with tech support level one, they shunted me up to tech support number two, who after thirty minutes advised me to just go out and buy a different product. I've never had that happen before. In the past support people have always been these sinister djinns who within fifteen seconds have identified your obscure hardware conflict and told you to go disable your microphone driver or something.

The occasionally dicey position of aesthetic response: I ran across this article, and before I realized the awful particulars my first thought was "What a beautiful photograph." We may now all discuss the appropriateness of that—I am put just a bit in mind of October 18, 1977. But of course they were dead already.

 

too hot for pants

The comment box asked me about Junzo Shono, whom I have not read. Here is the Booklist review for his novel Evening Clouds, which Hollywood will probably not be desperate to adapt anytime soon:

This series of vignettes focusing on the fictional Oura family was originally serialized in a Japanese daily. A subtle collection of episodes, it gives readers a glimpse of the idyllic country life through the eyes of the Ouras, who have just moved from Tokyo to a small house atop a nearby mountainside. Shono treats us to the simple pleasures of making yam soup, catching dragonflies, eating ripe red pears, and transplanting wild flowers into the family garden, as each family member delights in a different aspect of nature. Shono's writing conveys the flavor of life lived fully and the peaceful stillness found when one is happy with where one is at any given moment. Not even an invasion of stinging centipedes, the threat of a typhoon, or an encroaching housing development farther down the mountain can spoil the Ouras' happiness. Writing in a simple, honest style, Shono uses the everyday details of rural life as metaphors for the growing love the Oura family members feel for one another.

Really, that sounds like something I could use. I have learned 21 songs this week, in between writing 1000 words daily, and it has made me tired and fuzzy. I don't know what I'd do if I had a job.

It's bad enough when the president of South Africa disputes the connection between HIV and AIDS, but somehow Zambia's refusal to accept GMO corn strikes me as even worse. The "Frankenfood" thing is one of those liberal hand-wringing causes that I just can't get behind—in my mind the yuppies buying overpriced non-GMO food at the health market are silly enough, but a government deciding it's not good enough for their starving populace? Jesus.

 

ethanol

It's like a train wreck; one can't help but read the review of the Ethan Hawke book. (It could be worse.) The new Murakami, meanwhile, seems awfully similar to the old Murakami—looks like several of these stories are recent ones from the New Yorker. I'm starting to suspect that he's one of the postmodernists who leaves everything hanging not because the postmodern condition demands it, but because wrapping things up is just too much work. And who knows how to judge prose translated from the Japanese, but as we're getting it he has about four tricks which he uses ad nauseum. It's cotton candy—enjoyable, but at the end of the day you've had no nourishment.

 

long time gone, constantinople

I hadn't realized that Kaliningrad, the major city in that little Russian oblast sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland, used to be Königsberg, Kant's home and Euler's model for the beginning of graph theory and topology. (I think everyone had to do that "Bridges of Königsberg" problem in ninth-grade geometry.) What the article doesn't mention is that Kaliningrad is all fucked up these days—isolated and economically depressed and so on. I think Russia's a little worried about its ability to keep hold of the oblast in the long term. They're trying to put a good face on it, though:

We can already say now that the industry of the oblast revives. Proximity to European markets, a lot of imported commodities in the shops of Kaliningrad place local producers in the situation of the strongest competition. Close joining EU by the adjacent countries makes orientation on the European standards in production of goods the main line of oblast development. And the residents of the oblast prove that they can produce goods of the top quality.

The geographical term for such a piece of territory separated from the principal nation is "exclave."

Webloggeurs out there: go edit your blog data on Eatonweb. You get a nice page like this with genealogy etc. You will love it; it will love you.

Caterina contemplates Burning Man; I was intrigued a few years ago, when it had just started and I was living in Reno and the local papers couldn't get enough of it, but my interest has since paled. All the photos seem to show people who are not enjoying their drug experiences because they are in miserably hot tents. Our drummer is going nevertheless; the other night he was trying to explain the shape of his tent and used the non-word "rectahedron" and Rectal Tent became the joke of the evening—this sort of thing happens with bands. Later we determined that said tent will actually be a right octagonal prism.

 

el vampiro del sexo

Holy shit and my first gig with Muddy Bug is a week from today, 22 August at Belushi's. On Tuesday I learned six songs; I'll probably be learning a few more tonight. For now I'm content to be our Ed O'Brien, working texture/weird noises in the background.

Some reviews from The Spectator: Jane Smiley came out with a critical work on Dickens, and they find it highly embarrassing. That's too bad; we like Smiley around here. Also, there's The Joy of Writing Sex, which I think Sam Chang brought to a seminar last year. I leafed through the book and actually found a quote by Frank to the effect of, "Well, how do you write it? Do you use words like 'slippery?'" (In Stop-Time, he sure did.) I have to write a couple such scenes later this month, and I expect them to be thoroughly arduous.

More than five years ago, television networks began a fierce, secretive competition to lease prime real estate near the Vatican for coverage of the conclave of cardinals that will choose the next pope.

Wanted: Roman rooftops, terraces or other elevated perches that will frame St. Peter's perfectly in the backdrop, with its dome just over Peter Jennings's or Dan Rather's shoulder. Budget: hundreds of thousands of dollars, even if some of it needs to be paid each year, conclave or no conclave, just to be safe.

Although most of the major networks have devised their plan, there are still lingering recriminations over how a given piece of property was obtained, and many television producers remain in the grip of what can only be called roof envy.

 

una muerte anunciada

Happy birthday Peyton!

This morning I had to go to the mall, and after a few minutes of taking in the piped music and the crowds of sullen kids, I had the very clear realization that one day I will be beaten to death with sticks while bad eighties pop plays in the background.

 

the speed of light

Study for Approaching Zero

They took away my death. My life,
which should have been a corridor, became a maze
with my corpse hidden at its center. O corpse,
it was easier once. There was a promise,
or at least a reasonable assurance,
that you would become soil, and sprout
a spectrum of love-tokens after the rains.
This was the covenant, and it was enough
that we forgave the flood. But now the light is whiter,

colder. The icy halls reflect only themselves.
My government-issue thread is a placebo; it leads
to the surgeon, and he must know
his irrelevance. You can't imagine his lies—
that you have a bull's head, that your mouth
foams, that you are a shadow,
a walking negation. Fuck him, the propagandist.
He wants me to lose you. I know a bought man
when I see one.

In truth, I must be your shadow. For if
there is a light (and O
there is a light), then my breathing self
is necessarily its absence. You are the limit
that defines my arc, the distant shadowy planet
that perturbs my orbit. In some vanishingly far realm
my body is already yours, and only this ghost embrace
keeps them at bay—them with their clipboards and bloodhounds,
them with their rotted industry of life.

 

artistic sandwiches, creative salads

Back from visiting the Marlowes in Phoenix (or more precisely Goodyear, a nebulous area encompassing much of Phoenix's lawless western frontier). The house is large, if still sparsely furnished, and the huge angled purple wall gives it the feel of a gallery. They live directly behind a high hill which has been rechristened Mt. Marlowe. Saturday night we sat in the backyard and watched meteors flash as they fell behind its peak. Sunday took us to the Phoenix Art Museum, which I had never managed to visit during 16 years of living in Arizona; sometimes it takes out-of-towners to precipitate these things. Probably my favorite was Rules for Maintaining Balance by an artist whose name I've already forgotten; shelves with glued-down chalk are mounted onto a blackboard surface covered with scrawls, including a Mickey Mouse whose form, consisting mostly of sketched circles, is so minimalist as to seem anatomical. A camel in a desert landscape is painted directly onto the blackboard in pinkish monochrome. Its front hooves are tied together and it seems to grin as it angles its posterior at the viewer. Somehow this all works. Edward Ruscha's High Speed Gardening, on the other hand, we have decided to use as a metonym for all art that sucks so obviously it needs no comment.

"This fatso Sharon," Mr. Mubarak is reported to have said, referring to the bulky Israeli leader. "I hear he eats an entire lamb for dinner. How can anyone fall asleep after that?"

Mr. Mubarak reportedly went on to say that he had sent a senior general to meet with Mr. Sharon at the latter's farm. While the general had expected a huge meal, he was served only two sausages and a tomato.

"We were so hurt that I could not just overlook the incident," Mr. Mubarak was reported to have told Mr. Peres. "I complained to Sharon, and he said next time the general would get three sausages."

 

rawkmusik

So yesterday I went on out and bought me a beautiful bright blue Telecaster. I dig the minimalism (big white pickguard, two pickups, two knobs) and now I'm locked into that guitar-geek mode where I only want to sit around the house and play Radiohead and Blur songs and say to myself, "Yes, now I sound just like Johnny and Graham!" Eric thinks I should name it Gimlet, because last night I thought someone's drink was a gimlet and he found the word hilarious. I'm on the fence about the associations, though:

A real Gimlet is half gin and half Rose's lime juice, and nothing else. It beats martinis hollow.

—Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye

"I'll have a gimlet," Robert Wilson told him.

"I'll have a gimlet too. I need something," Macomber's wife said.

"I suppose it's the thing to do," Macomber agreed. "Tell him to make three gimlets."

[...]

So they sat there in the shade where the camp was pitched and some wide-topped acacia trees with a boulder-strewn cliff behind them, and a stretch of grass that ran to the bank of a boulder-filled stream in front with forest beyond it, and drank their just-cool lime drinks and avoided one another's eyes while the boys set the table for lunch.

—Ernest Hemingway, "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber"

Gimlet dreamed that if she did not see a concert last night she would become a type of liquid, therefore my friends Mr. Wonderful, Big, Gimlet and I went to see Keith Jarrett play a piano concert at the Irvine Concert Hall in Irvine last night... Gimlet has observed me masturbating while I watch the English Leather Cologne commercial and she agrees that the woman is very alluring and states that she would like to lick the woman's vagina for her. Gimlet is a bisexual who is keen as anything on oral sex.

David Foster Wallace, "The Girl With Curious Hair"

Today I went to traffic school in re: May's accident, and received a certificate for completing a "Behavioral Course." I salivate at yellow lights now, but it's a small price to pay. My classmates were not particularly scholastic—at the end of the course, as we filled out evaluation forms, they were asking one another how to spell "boredom." Really.

 

the accoutrements of a civilized home

Winging their way, via UPS, toward my bare walls: The Wanderings of Leopold Bloom, Surfer Rosa, Abstraktes Bild, and Guardians of the Secret. Everything else is set up, more or less. The Dance of Death is doing just fine over the couch, and I now have a desk large enough to comfortably accommodate computer & peripherals, typewriter, stereo, and the three-shelf bookcase with the reference books that I must continually reach for. If Iowa taught me anything, it's to always use the damn dictionary, split infinitive aside.

George Saunders, Pastorialia. I finally got around to reading all of the stories in this collection, and while Saunders's futuristic satire and black humor immediately suggest Vonnegut, I think his heart is actually closer to the Joyce of Dubliners. Both collections return again and again to entrapment; the bonds of love and duty and social obligation that suck us under, especially in a lower-class milieu. The main difference is that Saunders is a more unabashed humanist. In his world virtue is a weakness—one character, for instance, is undone by his inability to kick his deranged but loving sister out of the house—but his flawed people love so honestly and affectingly that we couldn't imagine it happening any other way.

Sparklehorse, It's a Wonderful Life. Quiet, lo-fi, and sinister: essentially a solo recording project with the help of some friends. The Tom Waits guest appearance isn't as exciting as it should be, but "I'm the dog that ate your birthday cake" gets my vote for line of the year.

Now it is time to buy a new guitar; I sort of have my heart set on a Telecaster. I've roped Eric into helping me pick one out, since he has secret music-major methods for testing intonation and whatnot. We'll see how it goes.

 

moocow coming down along the road

Received as a gift from Nik on arrival: a copy of the quite out-of-print children's book The Cat and the Devil, which is by James Joyce in the sense that it's taken from a letter Joyce wrote to his grandson. It was published in 1964 and never reprinted, so far as I know, though someone actually translated it into Spanish at some point. (File under: Devil; Emotions.) My particular copy did some time in the library of William and Mary College. Possibly it's too anecdotal and off-the-cuff to work as a sellable children's book, but I am nonetheless charmed. In the interest of Joyce scholarship everywhere, I have archived the (very short) text here.

Heyho, new prime number algorithm! (The paper itself is archived here in PDF, but it won't get you far unless you're handily familiar with number theory, which it turns out I'm not. Nevertheless it looks like a beautiful little algorithm at only 13 lines, and it takes only nine pages to explain.) Also, Steve reports that the speed of light may no longer be a constant. If it's true, this may well be excellent news—the article claims that it "debunks" Einstein, but it's only in the sense that Einstein debunked Newton. As Newton's cosmos is a special case of Einstein's, essentially valid so long as you're not traveling near lightspeed, so Einstein's cosmos would turn out to be a special case of this new one, essentially valid so long as you're not staring at quasars all the damn time. Huge theoretical implications, of course, but we need huge theoretical implications if we're ever to resolve that incompatibility between relativity and quantum theory. Onward!

 

the tempest

I am settled in Tucson, and everyone should be so lucky as to have an Original Mickey Mouse Theory of Love.

[...]

On Monday afternoon we had a torrential monsoon—something like three inches of water came down in an hour. I sat on the back patio and watched the storm blow in from the east. Within an hour we had gone from sunny to diluvial:




(That gray penal installation in the foreground is actually a perfectly nice elementary school, which I attended between 1988 and 1990.)

As the storm approached strong gusts of wind began to snap through the desert, shaking the leaves from the mesquites and whirling them in tight circles. The clouds must have been only a thousand feet up—they were much lower than the mountaintops—and the separate white and gray wisps roiled above my head with alarming speed, in several simultaneous directions, as they do in every sci-fi/fantasy film immediately before the glowing vortex descends and starts to suck up all Creation. The first shower of rain immediately darkened an already dim sky, and brought an eerie crepuscular quality to the afternoon. Birds veered unsteadily across the sky, whipping their wings against the gusts, and actually perched on the walls of houses in an attempt to escape the downpour. They moved beneath the eaves with a bizarre sideways gait that I had no idea they were capable of. After five minutes there was a bona fide river between me and the school; after ten minutes the power went out. In a box I found a candle that I had won in high school for some Spanish-proficiency award, and the hip flask that I used to carry around in California—still full of Bombay Sapphire, no less. Fortified by these, I continued to unpack my papers for another hour or so, as the last daylight ebbed, until power was restored.

 

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