12/28/04 - Quick update: made the trip to/from Mexico without much incident (if you consider one 8-hr redeye bus ride not to be an "incident"); now in Tucson, with intermittent net access. The Spanish language is slowly retreating from my brain again. If you want entertainment, check the NYT obituary for Susan Sontag and see if it's still got that amazing string of adjectives.
12/21/04 - Surely some of you have been thinking: "Wow: Seven Types of Ambiguity sounds like the worst book ever!" Rispondeo: no, no, my friends -- this is the worst book ever. FYI.
12/20/04 - Before Elliot Perlman took over today's entry (see below), I was planning to post the following:
While writing one occasionally falls prey to the terrible impulse to daydream about one's future reviews. When they rave, how will they rave? Will they call one's work "smart" and "post-Prufrockian," this being the choicest praise one has received to date? But, more likely, the reviewers will be like this uncomprehending Amazon.com reader. "Six of nine readers found the following review helpful:"
I got this book for christmas from a family member who thought I might like it because its about South Africa and Northern ireland and economics and war. I could barely make it through the first fifty pages before I started snozoing. It didn't exactly get more lively from there. I honestly can't tell you much about the plot because it's so freaking boring, but I think basically there's a girl who had a crappy childhood in small-town minneosta and she meets a guy from her hometown on a train in some big city, San Francisco maybe??(it's hard to tell because all the geo. locales are described the same way) and they talk--like, epic Wagne'rs Ring Cycle length of conversation here--for a while, and then suddenly it jumps back and starts talking about all these other women this guy dated in college and shit--he's a real lothario evidently, although its anyones guess how hes seducing all these girls because all he does is talk their eras off. aagh. well I guess he's sensitive. anyway then we move on from his boring conquests on to northern ireland, where one of the conquests is going to school and studying math or statistics or economics or whatever, which really injects some life into the narrativeand is nothing like watching paint dry at all. she does a lot of walking around and thinking about death and obsesing about her uncle who is a rich capitalist jerk. eventually dhse decides she needs to go to south africa to get away from her awful life in the first world and if she hand't, I have to admit I probably would not have finished this book because absolutely nothing nothing nothing happens up to this point. but actually exciting things happen in south africa and although you fear it will all be math or statistics or economics or whatever there are, in fact, knife fights and insomnia-induced psychosis and adventure. it's super. there's a cliffhanger too. but then the author (I don't know if it's a man or a woman but I'm guessing a woman because theres somuch talkgin) decides, "what this book really needs is more charaters and a ompletely different plot arc! because it's totally not confusing enough! and so we get thrown 80 years into the past to learn about how this south african economist woman's evil uncle rose to economic power which is... I guess I'd be spoiling the plot if I gave too much away but I don't knw how many readers would even get this far, so I'll just say 's a very interesting story and the author must have read a whole heap o books about the world wars and the insurance business. did I mention this is about the insurance industry?? I am not kidding that the author must have done reasearch on how to make this book more boring. Anyway when we're finally done explaining how th ehorrible company did lal its horrible things ... you guess ed it... we go back to lothario and the first girl and theres some more talking, because they didn't finish talking aboutevery goddamn thing possiible which would have been a terrible omission. I don't want to give the whole plot away in case there is one or two people in the world likely to read this book and enjoy it, but suffice is to say the ending ties it al up in the optimistic free-enterpirse affirming way you might expect... j/k... and the bad guys get their due and their's world peace. well, no, ubt somehow the author thinks that by showing us a lot fo dull people with sad little problems she will make some unspecified inroads into the problems of the world, but all we getis the most boring book since I read salambo for a class. actually salambo kicks this books ass. at least they crucify lions int hat one. if the author is reading this review (which considering how much she values her time I think is quite possible) I would recommend that you crusify some lions in tyour next book, ro at least put it all in africa. and then when your characters talk too mcuh you can have a lion jump out and yell "rar! you were going to crucify me,w eren't you! once you were done talking about insurance! but now im going to eat you! 9gobble)" and it would be a much better book. ok I'm done.
Ooh, you say: that was fun; let's have more self-flagellation. What's that business about Elliot Perlman?
Laptop: Oh, get up. Is there a prostitute in your book?
Pica: [lightly rustles bedclothes]
Laptop: [diplomatically] Well, there's no psychiatrist.
Pica: [muffled] No, there's one of those too.
Laptop: A kidnapping?
Pica: [hopefully] No, no kidnapping!
Laptop: A protagonist still in love with his university girlfriend, even though they broke up ten years ago and have not seen each other since?
Pica: Oh look! I think I see some oranges, and a juicer!
Laptop: Degradation of humanity by pervasive commerce?
Pica: They look like mighty good oranges from here! I can only imagine how juicy they might be!
Laptop: Characters railing against capitalism and its manifold extrusions, [which is] unnecessary, because the author is already doing an admirable job in dramatising most of these issues by showing the effects they have, day by day, on people's lives?
Pica: OH GOD MAKE IT STOP.
Laptop: Two separate and excruciatingly long and stupid passages railing against literary deconstructionism [sic]?
Pica: [brightening] No! No, there's none of that!
Laptop: Well, okay! I think you're cleared for reentry then. Wait. [suspiciously] Are there any excruciatingly long and stupid passages defending deconstruction?
Pica: No sir, not yet!
Opus, magnum or otherwise: I think there's a past tense somewhere in there which should be converted to future. It Is Not Done. I typed furiously on the train, harried by caffeine; I edited desultorily last night on a couch, wearied by walking and Advil. I need drugs to create. It's terrible. Also indirect: I need drugs to avoid the horrible despair; I need to avoid the horrible despair to create. This always sounds so pretentious, and yet I talk about it anyway, and walk about it and eat about it and sleep about it. What else can I?
Tomorrow I get on a plane and leave the Internet. I'll be back to the Internet at some point in late December or early January. Happy holidays to all.
12/17/04 - I am displeased with this site, but since the only thing to do about it -- improving it -- is beyond the limits of my patience or ability right now, I'll pass over most of it in silence. More than anything I need to work on the novel. I tend to spend winter holidays writing, in general; I don't know how much time I'll have to do so this winter but I will give it my best shot.
If I went back to Madison for Christmas, almost all the bookstores would be gone, the cafes would still be there, my family would be living in a different place, most of the people I used to know would not be back in town and I suppose it would be a more tattered version of the perennial nostalgia: so I'm not missing anything in terms of environment. I'll miss my family, but I can manage.
Hey, there's this fantastic dietary advice again! I just need a substitute for fish, then I'll be set for immortality. wow.
12/16/04 - The world seems inherently better when I get up at a reasonable hour; by "reasonable" I mean "unreasonable," namely 6 a.m. The sun rose as I read the morning paper and helped me pinpoint "east," of which my sense in the Bay Area is phenomenally poor. I can in fact point out the sunrise from my companion's bedroom window in Berkeley, marvel at its colors, and when instructed to walk "north" blithely walk in the direction of the same sunrise.
From that morning paper:
"The potential to lose is great, which is how Howard Hughes led his life," acknowledged Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of Miramax Films, one of the picture's backers. "If 25-year-old kids don't know Howard Hughes, there is still the maverick sensibility and DiCaprio, who is of their generation, the perfect instrument to sell the story."
"25-year-old kids," huh? Good to know Miramax approves of my dependent lifestyle. As the only existing fan of Gangs of New York, anyway, I have long been planning to see this stupid thing, even if it is three hours of Leo peeing in milk bottles -- I'm game.
Psychiatrists say the kind of fighting seen in the recent retaking of Falluja - spooky urban settings with unlimited hiding places; the impossibility of telling Iraqi friend from Iraqi foe; the knowledge that every stretch of road may conceal an explosive device - is tailored to produce the adrenaline-gone-haywire reactions that leave lasting emotional scars. [...]
Christ, that hadn't occurred to me: SSRIs give you dreams more vivid than life. I have become inured to the news over the last few years; this sort of thing burns the numbness off awfully fast. I am scanning VolunteerMatch for opportunities for helpful work that could be done, but not having much luck; you can do the same. If I find anything good, I'll post it. Meanwhile, you can read accounts at Operation Truth: of particular interest this and this discuss Halliburton/KBR employees & the distribution of risk & pay. It's "balanced;" some pieces are critical, others are not. Standard disclaimer about link content applies, of course -- I should put that on the sidebar.
12/15/04 - Fell asleep last night reading the notebook I kept leading up to (the exact day of) my hookup with N., i.e. first quarter back at Chicago in 1999, when I was all of 20. Brief reaction: holy Christ, I used to be smart. It all seems profoundly tragic now. I had a vexing crush on a Marxist grad student in the German dept ("but this is commodifying us both!"); I dragged the old-old laptop up to a hole-in-the-wall cafe in Rogers Park and wrote the ancien roman, with the quaintly Heideggerian working title "for the time being" which Annie Dillard, to my dismay, appropriated some time after I discovered it; I wrote long offhand Wittgensteinian passages about language, knowledge and material things which are perhaps better than anything I've written formally since then; I was full of calm and kindness and nicotine and "eggs espresso."
It's tempting now to place the blame for the subsequent four years at the feet of the woman N. was so head-over-heels for that fall, who rebuffed him in favor of some chump locksmith with the eerie capacity, as it turned out, to reconstruct keys from memory & so "broke" into her apartment (after she dumped him) with a copy of her remembered housekey. Eeek. I don't think anyone came out of that one well.
12/14/04 - It's true: I probably would have laughed if someone had told me that I would end up eating granola every day upon moving to California. It's all okay, though. It's all just fine.
Hmm, I thought a few minutes ago, something is askew. Am I wearing pants? Indeed I am; the mysterious change in the world is the absence of the Arcade Fire CD. I really do this with music: I probably listened to New Adventures in Hi-Fi close to 75 times this fall, and didn't want never-to-hear-it-again by the end of it. I am now perilously close to posting about my laundry and my groceries. Es muss etwas geschehen.
Oh -- but wait, I'm going to cross that line -- there's no going back now! For some insane reason, involving "economies of scale," I bought a 5-lb bag of carrots before remembering that I'm leaving town for two weeks. If you or your giant rabbit would be interested in some portion of the carrot load, drop me a line; otherwise I will either seek out a soup kitchen, tempt area horses from their stables, or make eighteen carrot cakes, the last sixteen of which to follow the recipe below:
Come get yer Vitamin A, America!
Update: I try hard, hard, to concentrate at work, but sometimes I concentrate so hard I don't notice until 4 that I really don't have a lunch-break option anymore, and then the last hour is pretty much a wash. By "a wash" I mean: here is a link to a book review by James Wood! My God, you say, the apocalypse. Perhaps. The book reviewed is by a fellow six years older than I. In six years, I devoutly hope a cantankerous reviewer will favorably compare my novel (which may be finished by then -- please, please, please, book, be finished by then oh sweet heaven) to everything published since Chekhov, or someone six years younger than Chekhov -- H.G. Wells? Can I manage that?
If you want to know my official appraisal of the work in progress, in its present state of progress, I will tell you that I don't honestly think it's very good, but I have faith in it. It isn't appallingly far from what I consider the best I can do, but I also don't consider it the best I can do, except in the sense that this is the only world we've got.
All right. Either this office is toxic, or I am. The air has a foul clamminess I am pretty sure is external. I came in at 9:15, I am leaving at 5:15. I have 25 minutes. I don't know why I even bother keeping track.
NO MATTER WHAT THE TIME IS
12/13/04 - If I weren't so tired of the f*cking 180 Express bus, I would not have come to work an hour late today and I would not have spent the earlier train ride up to Berkeley reading about the Arcade Fire in the SF Weekly, an even grimmer weekly paper than most vis-a-vis quality and readability. But because of the 180's treachery, I ingested a toxic dose of Arcade Fire hype and scurried around all weekend looking for a copy of Funeral at Amoeba (nope), Rasputin (probably not, but the ambience was too malevolent to get a decisive answer), and Mod Lang (jackpot, on a Sunday night ten minutes before they closed). I'm not normally this suggestible, I swear to you, but times are strange and the songs I heard seemed to warrant the mild insanity. There was a point earlier this year when all signs seemed to point to my taking a trip to Montreal; I forgot about it in the midst of everything else, but here on the west coast my thoughts run snow-ward often: native Californians step outside and remark that it's cold and I shrug -- is it worth contradicting them?
I really have never felt to this extent before that I had the power to choose what sort of life I wanted to live: it was always a matter of whatever I was doomed to, chance & opportunity & neurotransmitter-roulette. I feel odd using the verb "to feel" here, however: can freedom really be a matter of outlook, of inclination, to any meaningful degree? My brain is hazy at the moment, anyway, post-lunch. Found an article about how French women stay so thin: they eat good food infrequently, they do not snack, and they smoke like chimneys. Seems appealing enough.
12/11/04 - Novel today and Wittgenstein; posting later.
12/10/04 - It seems like Krugman must be right here -- is he not? This has been bothering me intensely for a couple of years now, so I think my continuing skepticism is only a deferred hope of getting the thorn out of my side somehow.
When I decide I can think in public again, maybe I'll try to tackle the question of political movements & affiliations in this country being fundamentally, amazingly incoherent. This isn't the sort of thing I do well at present, but I think it would be a very satisfying thing to do well. I need to do something well.
One more thing: a reader poll, albeit an informal one, with only one (two-part) question. Do you have an obnoxious ring tone on your cell phone? Do you get a lot of calls at work?
If yes, do the following: hold out your hand, palm up. Make a fist. Sock yourself lightly in the nose. Relax. Switch your phone to vibrate.
12/9/04 - I have to stop trying to think in public: it's gruesome. No entry today.
12/8/04 - But I'm still here. I dropped a staple into the keyboard; the shift key makes an insectile clicking noise. I think that's about all I have to say. I really ought to link to this other corvid-themed blog, however: it seems apropos.
12/7/04 - I bit the bullet & quit my job. No, I don't have anywhere to go after this. I am staying in The Area. My family does not know yet. (Please don't tell them.) It was, yes, fairly sudden, possibly too sudden, but there's plenty of relief admixed with the trepidation. I had to do something; I mean, I have to do something, having initiated the not-something. Last day 1/3/05, unless I hear otherwise.
One other thing (just in): Danielle Allen, a [MacArthur & otherwise] genius professor from my alma mater, has finally published a book.
12/6/04 - It is anyone's guess how much I will post here this month. The schedule below accounts for my physical whereabouts, for the most part; it doesn't cover the various activities I've promised myself to wrap up by the end of the year, and my interest in keeping daily logs is always cyclical in any case. I could tell you all about L.A., or sorting books for charity (briefly, I have no sense of age-appropriateness whatsoever: books I put in the six-to-nine pile were removed by other volunteers to "high school," with only one reversal -- I felt it was cruel and unusual to suggest to middle-schoolers that they read Dubliners, which goes over much better after you've been acquainted with the bleakness of the world firsthand), but I'd just do it in a trance, to no one's benefit. Creative energies, I am pleased to report, have mostly been pouring into fiction for me, although a certain proportion has been reserved for "enjoying Proust." I'm totally enjoying Proust. And so may you, without leaving your seat, if you dare, unless you are one of those wretched aesthetes who have a copy of the book surgically grafted to your hand already and thus need no etext supplementation.
See, I can't even finish this entry. It's like that.
12/4/04 - Slowly getting back up to speed. Patience.
Pica pica nuttalli (lyrics, vocals, and erratic evasive movements)
The shiny objects band:
The unsuspecting masses:
schedule 12/04 - 2/05
12/1 - 12/3 : Los Angeles
to add: art shows, music, Europe, novel deadlines, designated Days of Joy and Pilgrimage