Thursday, December 17, 2009

World's End

What, exactly, is the point - or the merit - of Helen Simpson's short story "Diary of An Interesting Year," featured in The New Yorker this week? Certainly its publication has something to do with the flailing Copenhagen talks, rechristened "Nopenhagen" from "Hopenhagen" by various parties, and with the general idea that the world is ending. I've been haunted by apocalyptic narratives for my entire night - and as I've written before on this blog, deeply impacted by several. And now I've been upset by this story, too.

The setup is simple - a few pages of brief, miserable diary entries by a 30-year-old British woman in 2040, after society has completely broken down following something called the Big Melt (guess). The tone is cribbed from every other apocalyptic story, ever, but it most nearly recalls to me the dystopian fictions of Margaret Atwood (which, with The Handmaid's Tale, Oryx and Crake, and The Year of the Flood now number three) - that is to say, occasionally shot through with black humor, often obsessed with social rules, and completely hopeless on the topic of human nature. The narrator's relationship with her husband, "G.," formerly her university professor, is the type of sniping, pithy interchange that plenty of married couples experience - but then again, it's her fault, because she married him.
Another quarrel with G. O.K., yes, he was right, but why crow about it? That’s what you get when you marry your tutor from Uni—wall-to-wall pontificating from an older man.

It's her fault. Just like, not incidentally, the end of the world. Without the internet, nobody can do anything, least of all deliver a baby: "Nobody else on the road will have a clue what to do now that we can’t Google it." And then, things fall further apart: malevolent men arrive, the pregnant woman dies with her dead baby inside her, a cartoonish evil Spanish grandma materializes from nowhere and steals the narrator's tins of food. This blogger says that it's supposed to be funny, but I don't think it's funny. I think the black humor is a bad excuse for humor, and I think the lazy gallows-gawker quality of the story says plenty of negative things about The New Yorker fiction department's motivation in choosing Simpson's story. What, exactly, am I supposed to take from yet another story about the future that informs me that women will shortly be raped in the streets - or in forty-foot-tall tree platforms, as Simpson has it - and be forced to self-abort their captors' children?

This kind of sensationalistic fiction rarely raises anyone's consciousness. At its most effective, it only succeeds in doing what it did to me this afternoon: disrupted my sleepy holiday with a dark mountain of nameless dread. Perhaps the most frustrating element of the current doomsaying is that, as ever, it seems there's nothing we can do, other than buy guns, as one Peak Oil prophet once suggested all women do. I don't see much skill in Simpson's story; unlike Atwood's apocalyptic tales, this one doesn't reveal much about the human condition, or even about our current psychological state. It just says that our lives will end nastily, that hope reveals itself as a miserable lie, and that life offers us no consolation. Last time I checked, the point of writing was to draw out the essence of being alive, to perhaps provide a justification for the strange mystery of life.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Against Irony: The Many Virtues of Jane Campion's Bright Star

In Jane Campion's Bright Star, the viewer experiences breath and air as markers of the passage of time in the lives of John Keats and Fanny Brawne, star-crossed lovers destined to leave more to history than to their own happiness. The film, shot entirely in natural and candle-light, is punctuated by two long stretches of period choral music sung a capella. Long close-ups on women's hands doing domestic work - sewing, cooking, and packing - return again and again. Several shots feature one of the lovers lying on their back dreamily or looking with apprehension towards an open window. Like a painting by Hammershøi or Hopper, these images suspend the viewer, drawing out the moment into a filmic statement about the fleeting nature of human existence.

That's Hammershøi's Interior With Young Woman from Behind and Hopper's Morning Sun, in order, above.

Like my other favorite films of recent memory - Silent Light and Jeanne Dielman (which I reviewed together here) - Bright Star dignifies the period women's work that a more glamorous film would sweep aside. Fanny Brawne, played in the film by the excellent Abbie Cornish, is constantly seen with needle and thread, creating the colorful outfits that bloom on her like another variety of the Hampstead flowers she and Keats spend afternoons collecting. Fanny is one of the better heroines of recent memory, a stubborn, exuberant, youthful and ultimately authentic lover. She is both more outspoken than we expect of a woman of her period and more believable. The kisses Fanny and Keats share are chaster than any I've seen onscreen, and more passionate for it. The film's subversion of the audience's expectations of a period film make it, like Sally Potter's Orlando, a more authentic experience.

It's a testament to Campion's script that Fanny's story comes to eclipse Keats himself; the film dignifies her longer life and less glamorous fate. Keats's Wikipedia entry refers to her as "rather promiscuous," which says a lot about the enduring legacy of misogyny embodied in the film by the poet Charles Armitage Brown, who believes that Fanny and Keats's relationship will ultimately destroy him. We all know how this story ends - Keats died of tuberculosis in 1821, at age 25 - and so the story leaves it to us to answer the question of whether passion killed the poet or inspired the work he left behind.

This film boasts many pleasures: the remarkable performance of Edie Martin as Toots Brawne, Fanny's younger sister; the transporting images of the Hampstead countryside; the intelligent and moving discussions of poetry; and the phenomenal lighting. I'll level with you. I was in tears the whole time. This is the best film of 2009, hands down. I love Bright Star especially because of its refusal to bow to the vast hunger for cynicism, a stylistic tendency in all modern art that has become lazy and predictable. With none of the tired shiny tricks like those on display in Tarantino's unfocused and bloated Inglourious Basterds,, this film captures the exhausting length of life with elegance and wit.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Menstrual blood, dandruff, garlic, Stella McCartney perfume, and shampoo, I'd wager

I was listening to some lovely songs on Orenda Fink's MySpace when, I shit you not, this advertisement popped up:

It'd be easy to join the bandwagon of Twilight hatred, but I'm not going to. I'll level with you guys. I think Twilight is pretty awesome. I'm no fan of the retrograde gender/sex politics of the series - although, having read none of the books and seen only the first movie, I don't really know that I'm qualified to comment; I'm just following the lead of other writers I admire and respect - but I can't help a deep intrinsic affinity for Twilight and its fans, the titular Twihards. I've always adored vampires, to the point where I enjoy pretty much any pop culture product that involves them, even if, as with True Blood, I often wish it were better than it actually is. Frankly, Twilight as a delivery service of sexual tension and questions to preteen girls - even if it does go on to answer those questions with the bludgeon of abstinence - doesn't seem like an overwhelmingly negative thing to me. Especially if it leads them to the work of other vampire writers, like the ones I enjoyed as a preteen, Poppy Z. Brite foremost among them. Although Brite has since moved onto excellent culinary fiction (and seems to be taking a sabbatical from writing in the wake of Hurricane Katrina), her splatterpunk vamp novels Lost Souls and Drawing Blood were my bread and butter in the late 90s and early 00s.

I will revisit Brite's work at length in this space, but I'll close here by saying that Stephenie Meyer is damn lucky that so much deeply sexual vampire literature has laid the groundwork for her truly chaste vamp fable. We want Edward because we know he'd be killer in bed if we could just get him there.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Racial Politics of District 9

Warning: Definite spoilers ahead.

As I watched Winkus Van De Merwe, the titular anti-hero of Neil Blomkamp's feature District 9, grow a conscience along with his new "Prawn" body parts, I couldn't help wondering how the film would have been received if the Other in the film had been brown people instead of large insectile aliens. Winkus's character arc is familiar from well-intentioned old-fashioned narratives where the interloping white man infiltrates an othered culture, either of purpose or by accident, comes to understand the gentle natives and eventually turns tail on his own kind to help them escape their oppressors. It's an old story, the White Man's Burden, one where only the outsider can appropriately organize the pure-hearted but disorganized othered mass and lead them to freedom.

I don't think a full indictment of Blomkamp's movie is in order - it's a fresh take on the science fiction epic, and compellingly explores several themes that are ripe for inclusion in pop culture discourse, foremost among them the issue of displaced and refugee communities. Still, setting the film in Johannesburg and involving another refugee population - that of the Nigerians who also live in the slums and scam the alien population - gave Blomkamp the opportunity to make a more considered inquiry into the issues of race and culture present in his fictional situation. I can't say I was too impressed with the garden-variety witchdoctor-employing African warlord Obesandjo, who had the capacity to be expanded into a pivotal player but remained a stereotype of a ca-razy African primitive. Also of interest / frustrating: the fact that military contractors have joined the ranks of Nazis and, well, giant insectile aliens in that rarified class of villains who can be killed with impunity. And I have to agree with Rich at Fourfour's complaint about the film's inexplicable switch from straightforward fake-documentary to first-person narrative film.

Still, I enjoyed District 9 and found myself moved by most of its emotional tricks: the kind and humane alien, Christopher Johnson, and his paternal relationship with his son, as well as Winkus's enduring love for his wife Tanya. It's also one of the most uncannily unsettling movies I've seen in a long time, making the most of its odd marriage of faux-documentary style to the constant threat of Cronenberg-level body violence. The film's greatest strength is Winkus himself, a weird Michael Scott of alien management who we manage to root both for and against. I will be interested to see the sequel, currently known as District 10, and see how much further Blomkamp can take his allegory.


* I have a website now! Check it out:

* My story "Park Rats" was featured on Joyland Chicago

* My food writing appeared on One For The Table. Check out the short essays: "Fried Fish" and Cafe Orlin.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Look, life is hard.

And nobody wants to be alone forever. All I'm saying is that if your personal ad is called Hi ladies im looking for the ONE ! and contains the sentence "Im not fat, about avg weight and 5'7 i am a pharmacy tech and enjoy my work, here are sum pics and a ROSE just for your BEAUTIFUL", well, all I'm saying is that this is not, perhaps, the best ROSE:

Just personally. When I want a man I don't know to give me a flower via a image pasted in a Craigslist personal ad amongst three strangely similar pictures of said man, it might be nice if that flower wasn't black. And you won't meet anybody more attached to her teenage gothdom. Also, I might not be so down with that (obviously fake) flower being adorned with the type of fake blood that I used to play with as a child, a sort of red gel, like cake icing, which came in a white plastic tube. I mean, I guess that's what you get when you lift clipart from Geocities vampire fanfic pages created in 1996.

Just personally saying, not the best ROSE for my BEAUTIFUL.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Looking at love

When I was a kid I liked to wedge a sharp corner in my mouth - you know, the edge of some cardboard or plastic packaging, or else the top of a Bic pen cap - and jab at the point where my palate met my top teeth until it was irritated and bleeding a little. I liked the taste of the blood and the tingling sensation. I never did any real damage. In fact, it never even occurred to me that this was weird, or self-destructive. The pain was besides the point. It was entertaining. I felt something different.

At night now I sometimes look at things on the internet designed to poke me in a similar way, although I take a lot less pleasure in them than I used to in gumming on a repurposed cracker box. One is the blog of St. Paul-based photographer Melissa Oholendt, which I stumbled upon through a friend's blog. Oholendt photographs engaged couples and weddings. On her professional website, she sets forth a mission statement of sorts:

You know the moment where the groom sees his bride for the first time? His look tells a story of love.

My passion is telling your story.

When I say I'm yours, I very literally mean...I'm yours.

So far, so strangely-emotionally-transgressive-and-bizarrely-sad. But hey! Her photos are nice. But (no insult meant to the Oholendt here; I'd hate to be TP'd by marauding fans of the photog), that's not why I look. When I stare blearily at pictures of "courtney & matt" or "beth & jeremy," I'm actively looking to snark (bad news, according to these findings). I want to think something bad. Not because I'm against Oholendt's stated goal of capturing love, but because I'm exhausted by the big question of how people fall in love.

For a good chunk of my life I thought I understood the machinations of emotional attachment, sexual compatibility, and human companionship quite well. Then, when I became single last year for the first time in nine years, I realized I was completely out of my depth. Since then I've experienced the vagaries of the dating world in a fashion that is neither unique nor, all things considered, particularly egregious. The things that have happened to me are the stuff of some particularly mumbly indie romantic comedies. I'll get over it.

But this year I was with a man who took beautiful pictures of me. I framed one, and it's sitting bubblewrapped in a cabinet right now because between the time I packed it into a box in New York and took it out of one here in Los Angeles he made it dramatically clear that my assumptions about our relationship were incorrect. And now on the internet I can look at the pictures he takes of a different woman, one who looks like she would agree with Oholendt's quip:

Um. Is Jennifer Aniston way prettier than Angelina Jolie? That would be a yes.

So I guess this post is a limp, barely interested Team Jolie fistpump.

But anyway. When I was a senior in high school I went through yet another bout of body image issues. I never had an eating disorder or hurt myself, but I sure felt pretty fucking terrible about the way that I looked. At one point I cut a photograph of Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis out of one of my mom's copies of Hello!. I coated it in several overlapping strips of Scotch tape, a sort of ghetto lamination job, and stuck it in my wallet.

I'd pull it out when it was time to order at a restaurant. The photo - not the one above - didn't show Depp or Paradis's bodies, just their heads.

"What are you doing?" my sister asked me once.
"It just helps me," I said. "You know, to think about being beautiful."

It would have been more effective if I'd just folded the picture in half, pinched the corner sharp, and opened wide.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Today I'd like to walk you down some favorite commercials from my past. I spent many years doing my homework in front of the television in my kitchen, watching everything on Channel 32, the Chicago Fox affiliate, from 4 to 10 PM. The lineup was great: Full House, Family Matters, Seinfeld, Frasier, and most importantly The Simpsons, at 5:30, 6, and 10 PM. I printed out a six-month schedule of every Simpsons episode Channel 32 would play and crossed them off as I saw the episodes, sometimes cross-referencing one of my many Simpsons guidebooks. Although I watched several hours of Fox every day, I did not know that Fox was a conservative network until I got to high school. It was just my entertainment delivery system.

So, let's set the 1997 scene with a little Harvey Danger:

Oh, you thought that was going to be "Flagpole Sitta," right? Psyche psyche psyche!

Empire Carpet commercials were like soothing background noise, always trilling the number to call for carpet tomorrow as I crouched over my science worksheets.

Al Piemonte Alert!

And what could be better than a little Windsong to give me hints about the delicate universe of male-female relationships?

The Moo and Oink commercial I wish I could post here is not available on YouTube, so I'm posting the vastly more famous "Moo and Oink Dance" clip below. But I never saw this flashy clip; the one that I was used to was a fairly rote, poorly made clip with listless employees showing trays of meat to the camera. Please enjoy this much more interesting commercial in its stead.

This Eagleman commercial has surely gained internet fame of its own by now, but I can't begin to count the number of times I watched it, waiting for Daphne and Niles's long-suffering love affair to come on again:

But all of these gems are dulled in the face of the most lovely and subtle of ads, the crown diamond I watched all winter and all summer, when Fox reran of I Love Lucy and Three's Company and I watched although I didn't understand or enjoy those shows, because I was hopeful Bewitched might eventually come on. This commercial is my DNA. It is my blood. It was given to me by my father and I will give it my children.

There is nothing better. The door falling off; the handful of fanned-out cash; the dead-eyed shots of the junkyard: this, truly, is my heritage. Tow me away, Victory!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Like light

Do you know how many photographs of James McAvoy I have on my computer?

So many.

When, as a senior in high school, I developed a terrible crush on Adrien Brody, I tortured myself with the knowledge that it was completely inappropriate because I was so old. Even as I bought an autographed photo of Brody on eBay and cut pictures of him out of magazines, tried to follow his supremely boring lovelife on the internet and traveled alone to a movie theater about forty-five minutes away from my house on the El to watch the middling pre-Brody-Oscar streetlife movie Love The Hard Way, I felt guilty. I was eighteen! I was way too old to, you know, discover that Brody's mother was acclaimed photog Sylvia Plachy, buy a bunch of her hardcover collections on Amazon, and try and cultivate a correspondence with Plachy about how much I enjoyed her work so that we would be best friends when I moved to New York for college and I would become her protegee and she would introduce me to her charming, single son...

You see the way my mind works. But I was eighteen. I was still allowed a little bit of that. Being a senior in high school with a crush on a translucent-nosed Oscar-winner was way more okay than being a first-year master's candidate BitTorrenting British TV like State of Play and Shameless just so I could take screenshots like this one:

It's fitting that I have yet to see The Last King of Scotland, one of McAvoy's more famous efforts, but I have sat through all of the Children of Dune miniseries (what an intersection, my favorite pale Scot playing my favorite post-human Messiah's son!) and the aforementioned "middling James McAvoy vehicle" Starter For 10. Oh man, I should definitely see Rory O'Shea Was Here, the fun-quadripalegic movie whose more restrained UK title was Inside I'm Dancing. That looks right up my alley.

Also, I saw Wanted in a movie theatre in the Czech Republic. Twice.

Why the outpouring of sudden McAvoy love, aside from my inescapable preoccupation with this scene from Atonement?

(Not original, I know. But understandable.)

The Guardian has a Proust Questionnaire-like Q&A with McAvoy up on their website, and honestly, the whole thing is just a bit much for me to bear. I just got out of this crush, McAvoy. Don't drag me back in.

My favorite of his responses:

When were you happiest?
When I was 15 or 16 - I slept really well then. Now I sleep on a bed of anxiety-tipped nails.

What is your most treasured possession?
My lightsaber - it's well cool.

What do you most dislike about your appearance?

What would be your fancy dress costume of choice?
Boomer or Athena from Battlestar Galactica.

If you could go back in time, where would you go?
To when dragons roamed the Earth.

What does love feel like?
Like light.

Be still, my heart.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Pacific Rimjob

I recently received the happy news that I will be moving to Los Angeles, a city I have long admired from afar, this fall to begin a doctoral program. With that in mind, I thought I'd set out on a free-associative sprawl through a culture I'll be somewhat nearer to starting this September: Japan!

What was my first impression of Japanese culture? My parents started feeding me sushi when I was fairly young...

(Note: Not a picture of me)

Around the time I was ten, my mom became aware of Hayao Miyazaki's 1988 masterpiece My Neighbor Totoro. She sent away for a VHS copy, which my sister and I watched with glee.

For years we searched high and low for Totoro merchandise, not easy to find in mid-1990s suburban Chicago. When I visited the Sawtelle neighborhood of LA with my boyfriend many years later, I was blissed out of my mind to find a stuffed Catbus at the Giant Robot store.

On a childhood vacation to Disney World, I discovered Yukito Kushiro's Battle Angel Alita, a manga about a lonely cyborg girl with a mysterious past. I never fell fully into real manga or anime fandom, although I enjoyed plenty of both media.

I also remember being taken to a Japanese restaurant in Chicago called Suntory at some point in my childhood. It served what I would later come to recognize as shabu-shabu cuisine. The waitresses wore full kimono. I very clearly recall that the restaurant displayed photographs of its locations all over the world - including outposts in Sydney and Johannesburg - and yet I strangely cannot find any evidence of its existence on the internet.

At the beginning of adolescence, I became, like most teenage girls who like Hot Topic, enthralled by FRUITS, the bombastic collection of photographs of Tokyo street fashion available in book and postcard form:

During high school I discovered the work of Haruki Murakami, America's favorite Japanese surrealist. Norwegian Wood was my first Murakami book.

I tried, and failed, to custom-order a white kimono to wear to my high school graduation. In college I read Edward Said's Orientalism, which made me feel a little bad about my love of Japanese weirdness. But I also experienced the work of great Japanese filmmakers in depth. I took a course at Facets Cinematheque on the work of genius / idiot savant provacateur Takashi Miike, director perhaps most famously of Audition:

I've also long nurtured a frustrated desire to learn more about the Ainu, Japan's aboriginal people. Two years ago I was lucky to see Tomu Uchida's film about Ainu culture, The Outsiders at BAM. I've still got my fingers crossed for a Criterion release.

I decided to make this post because my roommate and I were discussing ZZ Packer's short story "Geese," a masterful treatment of the outsider experience of Japanese culture. The juxtaposition of the African-American and Japanese cultural experiences reminded me of my new favorite thing about Japan: Jero!

Jero is the stage name of Jerome Charles White, a Pittsburg native who is now a star in Japan. Jero's maternal grandmother is Japanese, and he grew up listening to enka music with her. Enka is a tradition of very heavily sentimental love songs which has recently gone out of style in Japan. For an English equivalent, think of the work of Perry Como, the "Velvet Fog." (With Japanese subtitles for thematic consistency!)

I'll leave you with this CNN interview with Jero. Sayonara!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

[sic] as ever

It's almost spring, so that means it must be time for another installment of Personal Ad Hell. Let's walk hand-in-hand-in-hand down to the underexplored mm4w alley of Casual Encounters, shall we?

Road trip to NYC

Me and a close friend just decided to drive to New York today. We have never been and would like to have some company to possibly show us around. We are currently on our way from Pittsburgh and may need a place to hang or crash. I am 23, white and the taller of the two. He is 22, white and wears glasses. We are both gentelmen and we know how to treat a lady. If interested we can send a pic or two. I can give my cell # to those who reply. Hope to hear from you soon ;)

PS we will arrive roughly around 7am and we will be staying till sunday

Wait. Um. Isn't this section for two dudes who want to screw the same woman? These guys also want a chick to let them stay at her house and perform tour-guide duties for free. No mention is made of sex, and I'd love to meet the woman - probably deeply religious - who would happily play NYC ambassador for these clowns and then be scandalized when they try to fingercuff her in her foyer. I love the useless physical descriptions: one is taller than the other one. You know, the one who wears glasses. And they're already in the car! Get ready, ladies of New York City!

mix it up (Deeply NSFW)

I can't say what, exactly, upsets me so about this ad. Both of the headshots look like they were taken by the dudes' moms, for starters. The lower penis looks, in shape, disturbingly like human excrement.

The cum show-It is always easier with two mature men vs one

Like all transcendent CL ads, this post quickly departs the subject of sex and becomes all about how WOMEN need to LEARN A THING OR TWO:

As you know many men are full of hot air and when a female takes them up, they cannot perform as advertised. We can and would love to meet up. We are not pornstars and do not pack attachments like they do, because they are freaks of nature, but females clearly have told us throughout our lives that we know how to use our nice sized and thick equipment.

Note: all women should read "nice-sized" as "uses fingercots as condoms." But at least they're not FREAKS OF NATURE!

While your sex life right now may be wonderful, non existent at the moment or you are just downright bored at the moment, when sex is good, there is nothing like it. However finding it, is easier said than done and going to a bar and just hooking up in an alcohol induced state is not your style. That is why you are trolling the posts here on Craigslist hoping that you can find what you want by responding to a few posts.

Uh, yeah. You guys know that everything written in second person is actually just clumsily styled first person narrative, right?

We play safe, are both easy going and very respectful. Condoms are always worn for penetration and we play with your pleasure in mind. Our favorite position is you in doggie style being very well fucked while also sucking the other guy. Saying that, we are fine with all positions, combinations and inputs. We also love eating pussy and will go down on you for as long as you want us to or you can ride our faces or 69. For the lady whom truly wants it all, we can go backdoor or DP, but you have to let us know if you are comfortable with it, since we want this to be totally enjoyable for you. This may not be for you and we'll totally ignore your backdoor if you tell us that. Blindfolds, spankings, light bondage, toys, a second female or more as long as we are on the same page is fine with us. We are so open, that if you have a strap on and want to fuck one or both of us, that is fine too. Or stick a dildo up our asses too. We are fine with that. We are hetero by the way, but it feels good and we are not uptight sexually. We are not neanderthals and your input is very important, because this way we know up front what you enjoy. We can be very dominant and if you want us to treat you like a total slut, totally controlling that is fine too.

Look. I'm of course happy that these guys practice safe sex and are so willing to negotiate the terms of their internet-arranged threeway. But I am pretty sick of the rhetorical device of suggesting exactly what one wants to happen as if it's another person's desire. This whole thing would be so much shorter if it wasn't reliant on such a whiny, accusative, passive-aggressive prose style. "We are fine with that. We are hetero by the way, but it feels good." Uh, okay, least-fun, most-defensive threeway participants ever. Is the gay panic you are guaranteed to have if your cocks touch at some point in the evening "fine"?

3 Dudes and/in You! - mm4w - 28 (Williamsburg)

Oh, cute. Of course you assholes live in Williamsburg. This thing reads like a hipster douchebag guidebook (maybe one that the author of the first ad discussed in this post could use on his NYC trip):

Hi there,

How are you doing today? If you're feeling up for it (and you aren't/weren't a dude), there are three wonderful dudes out there who want to have you over for a little wine, a little supper and some sex.

we're looking for a special lady who wants to enjoy three dudes at the same time, in multiple positions and areas of your body. we have lube, ribbed condoms, and a Jack Johnson CD so we're pretty much all set to go.

Must be OK with Eiffel towers, using safe words, crying, the word "booyah", bukkake, chest hair, and have a burning desire to get all sexxxed up by three dudes at the same time. This is an experience that will blow your mind.

Your pic gets one of me naked holding a teddy bear next my junk.

Oh, yeah, an evening with these clowns is exactly what the doctor ordered. Allow me to put on my white belt and triangular-fold printed scarf, hop on the L, and get ready for a room full of men-children who haven't been this scared since they watched It on cable three weeks ago. They didn't expect that anyone would take their stupid NYU joke seriously, you see, but I went to the trouble of looking up what an Eiffel tower is, and I want something for my trouble. To the soundtrack of "Better Together".



You guys, I think I'm in love.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"Lisa, you've never even taken a clandestine shower."

I am incapable of keeping anything from anybody.

Deli Proof Daily! #1 from Deli Proof on Vimeo.

I HAD IT BAD tonight!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Interior World

Last spring I found photographer Julia Fullerton-Batten's book Teenage Stories in a gallery bookshop in Paris. It's a collection of images of real-sized teenage girls stumbling through miniature landscapes, as well as other visual statements of dream life: a girl in the woods, her long red hair stuck up in the branches. A woman's body lying in front of a window looking out on an airport at night (an image that is now the cover of the Joan Didion book Play It As It Lays). These images have captivated me for a year now, and I thought I'd post a few here.

In my own dream world, one of Fullerton-Batten's images would be the cover of my first book.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Two Movies

Last week, after what I think was exactly a calendar year of not going to the Film Forum for no other reason than sheer laziness (well, also not living in NYC for five months of 2008), I saw two films at the Film Forum. They were Silent Light, directed by Carlos Reygadas, and Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, directed by Chantal Akerman. It was my first time seeing both movies.

The premise of Silent Light (Stellet Licht in Plattdeutsch, the language spoken by Russian Mennonites) - a man falls in love with a woman who is not his wife - interested me less than the details of its production. Silent Light was filmed with a nonprofessional cast of Mennonite actors. Although it takes place in the Mennonite community in north Mexico (a community I did not know existed), the actors also hail from Canada and Germany, and were able to communicate with eachother because they all speak the same small language. Miriam Toews, one of the lead actors, is an acclaimed Canadian author who was raised in a Mennonite community. All of this is the type of trivia that makes me adore movies.

And I did enjoy Silent Light deeply, although my prurient interest in the film as a window into the cloistered lives of Mexican Mennonites ended up being inconsequential. The movie is an explosion of sensuality. Watching Silent Light reminded me of an African cinema course I took during my undergraduate career. The instructor told us that we would have to learn to read film in a new way, since African cinema features few of the tropes of mainstream American movies (closeups, quick cuts, flashy camerawork) and often features long still shots on people moving through a landscape. But Reygadas's film is by no means plain. every scene was so full of texture that I felt physically respondent to the film, wet when it was raining, heavy with sorrow during scenes of a funeral - but it subverts the expectations of the modern viewer. The film begins and ends with long dreamlike shots of a sunrise and sunset. The images are strikingly beautiful, and yet the desire to look away, to do something other than focus on what was in front of me, was hard to resist. Most of the people in the theatre did not resist - the rows were lit up with cell-phone screens as people texted and checked their missed calls. But Silent Light is all about the value of experience, even at the cost of personal comfort. A life fully lived, it seems to say, will never run out of surprises.

Jeanne Dielman is completely tonally different from Silent Light, but it too has a deep love for the unmoving camera. For nearly three and a half hours the viewer follows Jeanne through her day. She is a Belgian housewife without a husband, performing the rituals of domesticity seemingly solely for the benefit of her teenage son, who is at school all day. Even with the promise of "something" happening at the end of the movie, Jeanne Dielman is a long haul. Scenes ten and fifteen minutes long show Jeanne meticulously preparing food and then cleaning up after herself with a heartbreaking efficiency. The viewer returns with Jeanne to her chores - folding up the sofa bed her son sleeps on, making her own bed, grinding coffee beans - so many times that one starts to feel the same sense of exhaustion and misery at the routine that Jeanne herself must feel.

One of Jeanne's daily tasks is draping a small towel over her shiny middle-class bedspread, so that the gentleman caller she receives in the middle of each day will not sully her linens. Jeanne Dielman is a genteel prostitute, you see, selling dispassionate rolls in the sack in exchange for her continued stasis. These encounters are barely shown in the movie. Instead, we see Jeanne's ability to cope deteriorate over the course of the three days. On the second day, her hair is still tousled when her son gets home. "Your hair's a mess," he says, scarfing down his food. Jeanne's sister writes to her from Canada: would you like to visit us and maybe meet a nice man? But Jeanne can't even summon the energy to decide whether or not she would like to make the trip.

Where Silent Light was life-affirming for me, Jeanne Dielman felt uncomfortably familiar. I, too, am a woman who spends a lot of time alone in her apartment, although I am not also a discreet prostitute. I know the feeling of preparing a meal for yourself and then carefully cleaning up all evidence that the meal even occurred. The slight satisfaction that I take from small household tasks can become an enormous gloominess over the course of a day spent alone. By nightfall I'm restless, and if there's nothing for me to do and no one to see, the clean kitchen is small comfort.

Chantal Akerman was 25 when she made Jeanne Dielman. In an interview with my friend Dennis Lim, Akerman said:
“Jeanne has to organize her life, to not have any space, any time, so she won’t be depressed or anxious. She didn’t want to have one free hour because she didn’t know how to fill that hour. [...] I sometimes think I should have made it after many other films, at the end of my career,” she said. “I remember saying to myself, how can I make a better film? But it was also exactly the film I had to make then. It says something about a woman, about a way of living a life, about life after the war. It was the first thing I had to pour out of myself.”

She added, “I would have changed nothing about it.”

Have I ever told you that I don't even watch ANTM, but I read all of Rich at Fourfour's recaps?

"She looks to me about as versatile as a 65-year-old bottom who misplaced his Cialis."

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Happy endings

I've been trying to write a review of the three excellent films I've seen in the last few weeks for a few days now, but in lieu of that, check out the internet home of the reading series I am hosting at Happy Ending Lounge on the third Wednesday of every month. Unrequited love is a universal experience, but every crush is different. The I Had It Bad Reading Series explores the embarrassing machinations of the human heart.

Also, I've added a picture and am no longer a faceless entity.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Enormous Radio

For the past six years I've been a student at an institution that gives me an entire four weeks from mid-December to mid-January off from school. I have always spent this time at home in Chicago with my family. I've never particularly liked returning to New York in January after my long winter break in New York, but I forgot just how sharp the shock of returning to NYC can be. I've been back for a week now, and it feels like forever.

Oddly, one of the things I miss most about Chicago when I'm not there is the local NPR affiliate, WBEZ. Although I can't fault WNYC, WBEZ is the sound of home. I've been listening to it on the internet a great deal this past week. Right now they are announcing the temperature across various suburbs: "16 in Glendale, 14 in Merrillville..."

When I listen to this weather report I feel like I speak a secret language: Merrillville is in Indiana, not terribly close to Chicago, and yet right now I'd almost rather be there than here. Okay, that's just romantic sentiment, I would not rather be in Merrillville, IN than New York City. But I do feel like one of the things that makes New York City bearable is that many of the people who live here hail from nearby places - Connecticut, New Jersey, upstate New York - and can return home frequently if they so desire. I can't.

This may be my last six months in New York. Right now I am waiting to hear from a variety of institutions - none of them in New York - as to whether I have been accepted for further study. If none of these options comes through, I am seriously considering returning to Chicago. It's not a decision I take lightly. This city has been very good to me, and I recognize that Chicago might not hold the same opportunities I have had here. But when I sit and look out on Second Avenue and listen to the traffic report from Shadow Traffic, the woman listing the forty-minute stretch of the Edens to Pulaski, my thoughts go somewhere else, and my body longs to follow.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Cutest Animal You've Never Heard Of

The Pika!

In Memoriam: Patrick McGoohan

I'm not sure where I first heard of the remarkable television show The Prisoner. Like other cult television shows (Twin Peaks being the most obvious example), The Prisoner had an extremely brief run, from October 1967 to February 1968, but has come to loom large in the pop culture imagination. Maybe I was familiar with the concept from the Simpsons episode "The Computer Wore Menace Shoes," a terrific Prisoner parody of which no YouTube clip seems to exist, sadly. In any case, I received the complete series DVD set for Christmas 2004 and watched it in its entirety over the next six months.

It was a happy time in my life. I was a sophomore in college, living in a tiny Lower East Side apartment with my boyfriend and my best friend. The apartment was advertised as a two-bedroom, but was in fact a one-bedroom. My boyfriend and I slept in what was meant to be the living room, which featured the only two windows that let in natural light (the rest looked out on airshafts). Our futon was pressed up against the windows, and it was freezing in the winter. My mild domestic impulses seemed like hysteria in contrast to the laissez-faire housekeeping of my roommates, who left snail trails of library books and sweaters in their wake as they moved through the three rooms. The bathroom was coated in tiny curly black hairs and the kitchen was almost always dirty. I had never been so happy in my entire life.

During our frequent breaks from reading Orientalism and writing about the fluidity of gender roles my boyfriend and I would sit down and watch an episode or three of The Prisoner. What joy the opening sequence always brought us:

And what happiness to hear the series' star, Patrick McGoohan, intone some of his immortal phrases. Our particular favorite was his send-off, "Be seeing you," of which my boyfriend could do a killer impersonation. More than forty years after the show was on the air, he and I had become rabid Prisoner fans. The series is terribly smart, engaging and challenging a variety ideologies. Even in its missteps - there's an entire Western-themed episode, which didn't work for me - it never condescends to the viewer. Plus, it features a villainous weather balloon.

The news that the show's star, ice-cold badass Patrick McGoohan, died yesterday at age 80 filled me with a sadness I can attribute to more than my hatred of the freezing weather. On The Prisoner he rode the line between camp and cool like it was a British sports car or a crazy-ass bicycle. Rest in peace, Number Six. Be seeing you.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Ruminations on the Golden Globes

I have always had only the most passing interest in the Golden Globes. In keeping with that lack of enthusiasm, here is an incomplete, vaguely stream-of-consciousness liveblog of tonight's show.

7:47 pm: They just showed Marisa Tomei. I feel like every time I've heard her name mentioned in the past five years has been in reference to how surprisingly good she looks naked. In 2005, someone mentioned this in relation to her role in Factotum. But by far the most constant comment about Tomei is that she "looks amazing" in Before The Devil Knows You're Dead. Seriously, upwards of sixteen men have mentioned this to me. Good for Tomei. I bet this skill comes in handy in her current role as a stripper in The Wrestler (Full disclosure: I have not seen any of the films mentioned above).

7:57 pm: "Please welcome the star of the upcoming films Bunraku and Happy Tears, Demi Moore!" Best sentence ever? Also, I misheard "Bunraku" as "Spunkaroo."

8:01 pm: My mom just said "There's Shirley MacLaine! She's still alive!"

8:09 pm: This announcer has not been given a lot to work with: "Here are two stars of The Dark Knight, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Aaron Eckhart!" Here they are, folks! Two of 'em!

8:12 pm: Laura Linney has the most beautiful skin. What does she do? Bathe in the blood of virgins, Erzsebet Batory-style?

8:22 pm: Alec Baldwin looked adorably nervous when they announced his nomination. Also, what did David Duchovny mouth to the camera? He told me what he was going to say this morning before he left my apartment, but I forgot.

8:30 pm: Renee Zellweger's dress is hideous! This makes me happy! Also, they just cut very briefly to an incredibly creepy shot of Marc Anthony stroking Jennifer Lopez's arm.

8:44 pm: Hi, Kate Beckinsale! You and Diddy are a hilariously wooden duo. Remember when you had a career and made good movies? I don't!

Sometime later - didn't record the time: David Duchovny was so sad in front of the mike with Jane Krakowski, I can't even make a good joke about his sex addiction and how it has impacted me in a positive way.

9:18 pm: Sandra Bullock making a tired joke about the relative sexiness of the Vicky Cristina Barcelona setup is my idea of the entertainment in hell.

9:29 pm: Do the people in attendance really care enough about Madonna and Guy Ritchie's divorce to look mildly scandalized at Sasha Baron Cohen's mild joke?

9:38 pm: As Kate Winslet wins her second Globe of the evening, my committment to this project waffles. Amelie Gilette is way better at this than me: "9:20pm--Slumdog Millionaire, the only movie that could make Who Wants To Be A Millionaire even remotely entertaining, wins for best screenplay. Brad Pitt clearly mouthed, "What's this for?" as the writer went up on stage. If it's not a magical 80-year-old in love with an 11-year-old , it doesn't matter does it, Brad?"

9:43 pm: "Hello, we're TV actors." Pretty good, Rainn Wilson.

Friday, January 2, 2009