Hello, Failure

Of all the enemies of literature, success is the most insidious

Friday, May 30, 2003

Failure of the Day: RG Taylor Properties

HO-LEEE shit. You will not believe this. You will just not believe it. I can't believe it.

So when we moved back to SF, Barnes and Noble said they would pay out the rest of our lease (3 months) since we were moving for work. Fine.

Apparently, they have not been incredibly speedy in making those payments, much to the frustration of our old landlord. Who was pretty nuts to begin with; she once called me 4 times in a single day to arrange giving us new door stops, 'cause that's, y'know, a vital part of an apartment. She also changed the all the locks in the building 3 times in one year and called our neighborhood (equivalent to Noe valley) the "inner city."

So yesterday I got a notice from her (first we've heard from her in 3 months) about the rent payments for the broken lease, which I don't really care about. But here's the thing: she also quite suddenly decided that our apartment was so dirty when we left it as to render it "uninhabitable." Can you imagine? If you are reading this blog, odds are good that you have actually been to our apartment either in Seattle or SF, so you KNOW how clean Chris keeps it at all times.

On top of that, the idiot did a walk-through the day before we moved out and filled out a form (of which we got a copy) detailing the condition of the place, and she checked off nearly everything on it as excellent, or at least good. She thanked us repeatedly for taking such good care of the place and said she wished all of her tenants were as clean as us.

And now suddenly, the place is uninhabitable. I have her signature on a document that says otherwise, but she still thinks she can bill us for $1600 in cleaning fees. It's unbelievable! I'm furious. And I'm sick to my stomach at the greed and mendacity of people.

My lesson of the day: Do NOT trust your landlords no matter how nice they are to you. Take photographs when you move in and take photographs when you move out. My landlord right now seems like a super nice man, but after this, you'd better believe that we will document every single aspect of the condition of this apartment from this point forward.

Thursday, May 29, 2003

Failure of the Day: My Hair, My Ass, My Endocrine System

All of which are fucked.

Is it my imagination or is it more of a hassle to do the hair modeling thing at high-end salons these days? It used to be that all you had to do was call and set up an appointment, and a couple of days later, some proto-hairdresser would do crap to your hair for cheap. This is helpful because the crap I like to have done my hair costs like 200 bucks and the proto-hairdressers do it for $30. They still will, but now you have to haul ass down to the salon for some stupid pre-appointment so you can be evaluated, and then they can't fit you in for 3 months. And meanwhile, my hair is just fucking brown. Brown!

My ass? Huge. Just huge. Goddamn Fritos.

My endocrine system is actually pumping along thanks to the thyroid supplements I take, and for some reason I am currently producing tons, just tons of progesterone, after 30 years of having, like, none. The result is that I menstruate now. Wooo hooo. I have joined the ranks of the hormone robots, which is to say, humanity. In a very small number of days, Chris will very likely have to play his part in our monthly play:

Nancy: Ow.
Chris: Poor Pooh!
N: Shut up!
C: I love you!
N: Fuck off.
C: Is there anything I can get you?
N: Fritos!
C: But you made me promise to not get you any more Fritos…
N: Are you saying I'm fat?

I apologize in advance for everything.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Failure of the Day: Medical Memoirs

That is, of course, what I'm really writing, even though it is helpful to me to consider it and write it as a novel; there are just more options that way.

I still don't have a title, although I feel like I am closing in on something that I feel will be right. I recently did an Amazon search on medical memoirs and disease novels, and I found plenty. I also found great examples of what I don't want to do. For example, the titles are usually too cute by half and use a metaphor that involves the afflicted body part: "A Change of Heart" for a book about a woman who got a heart transplant; "At Face Value" for a book about a guy with a facial disfigurement; "A Stroke of Genius" for a book about a guy who had a stroke. And other than being, y'know, stupid and obvious, what part would I choose? Brain? Skin? Ovaries? Thyroid gland? Lungs? Plus I already called my first chapbook "Bodies of Work" (and now I'm just showing off).

Anyway, I am now 2/3rds of the way through the second draft. It won't be long now. There's a thing I'm missing, I know. Some detail that needs to be added that I've overlooked. I don't know exactly what it is yet, but I think I'll figure it out. As I was lying on the floor in my room with a terrific backache this weekend, I felt the book, my book, in the air all around me. And it seeemd to me that I was living in the book, and at the same time as I was enjoying how cool that was, feeling like this is what real novelists must feel, it was kind of ridiculous because in point of fact, I am living in my book. It's a memoir, for chrissakes. Only it's kind of not, also, so I decided to go with the whole "coolness" part and not the "ridiculousness" part of the feeling.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Failure of the Day: Counting Chickens And Then Deciding They're All Dead

Well, no call from MyPleasure.com yesterday. I did a pretty good job of convincing myself that the Lube Lady (as we've come to call the woman who interviewed me) actually meant that she'd call Tuesday because she forgot that yesterday was a holiday. That particular illusion lasted until a little after midnight, right when I was trying to go to sleep. And then POW!!! Bye-bye illusion, hello insomnia.

I am about 90 percent certain she will not call today. I still jump out of my skin when the phone rings because I have worked myself up into a fairly ridiculous and entirely unbecoming state. And each time it rings, it is still the damn Arbitron radio ratings people who are dying to know what station I listen to. And the radio is uniformly horrible, so I don't listen to it at all except sometimes KUSF and KQED, both of which are non-commercial, and radio ratings are used primarily to determine ad sales rates, so they really don't need to hear from me at all. But they still keep calling.

Anyway, it's only 10 AM (I would tell myself, if were actually holding out a shred of hope that the Lube Lady will call, which I'm not). It's not like she's the only job prospect I have right now; I sent out a butt load of resumes and pithy cover letters in the last two weeks, including one to a place looking for freelance copyeditors with computer book experience, and they would be nuts not to take me on. Plus, I already have a job, even though lately they have been falling short of supplying me with 40 hours a week of work, which is why I'm antsy to begin with.

I suppose this is all just part and parcel to the extended adolescence we're all enjoying so characteristically of our generation. I get to postpone traditional adult responsibility and dye my hair pink, but I also get to wait by the phone in high school-esque Will-He-Call anxiety.

Late-breaking (11 AM) update: It's official... the Lube Lady has no use for me. She sent me a swell e-mail about "more exact matches for the position" and so on. Oh well. I'm going to have some Fritos now.

Monday, May 26, 2003

Failure of the Day: Matrix Reloaded

So I think enough time has passed that I can write about this without spoiling anything for anybody. I've heard from two people who both said they thought it sucked ass. They actually both used that exact phrase. I didn't think it sucked ass, but I also didn't have my hopes pinned on it that it would be transcendent or anything either, and happiness is a function of expectation, after all.

I didn't really like the Zion-As-Burning-Man scene, but I liked the religious images of Zion as a whole. I thought the freeway scene was GREAT, and I'm not even much of a car chase girl. I understood that even though Neo is super powerful, he still had to fight with the agent guy clones because they were "outside" of the matrix, and that was a handy little workaround.

But that scene with the Architect was really ponderous. Do they create the One, messiah guy, on purpose in each iteration, or is it just an expected but not necessarily desired side effect? Did each of the other iterations of the One pick the door to Save Zion, and Neo was the first one to pick the door to Save Trinity? What difference does the door he picks make? It looked to me like the destruction of Zion included the destruction of Trinity and everybody else, too, so I'm not clear about the rationalization used to choose the Save Trinity door. I suppose that's the point…the machines would look for a rational choice, which would be the Save Zion door, and would not count on the irrational, emotional human choice that Neo makes. But if this is the sixth iteration, and all the previous "Neo" messiahs were human and presumably in love with the girl as well, wouldn't at least some of them have made the same choice that Neo made? And wouldn't the Architect have a contingency in place? It's not like they're offering a real choice, I didn't think…like "Here, if you can figure out this puzzle, we'll let you destroy all our work." Don't you kind of have to assume it's a "damned if you do/damned if you don't" proposition? Or was that the point? Is it a movie about choice and free will or isn't it?

Or maybe, as Chris suggests, the whole Architect business was supposed to just be gobbledy gook. In which case I might lean a little more toward the Suck Ass contingency, because I'd like there to be some sense to the whole thing. And there are other questions…what's up with the French accent guy? The Oracle called him a dangerous "program," but I sort of got the impression that he might be an earlier iteration of the One, which would mean he was human, or at least had been at some point. And that building they blew up that supposedly housed the mainframe for the matrix…after they exploded it, why was there still a matrix? Or did they not really destroy it? Was that part of Neo's choice?

We're going to see it again, probably, so maybe I just zoned out at parts and will get a better grasp on second viewing. If anyone one knows, or has a good guess, at any of this, by all means let me know.

Friday, May 23, 2003

Failure of the Day: Nutrition, Part 5

And our final candidate is the succinctly-if-redundantly titled Cliff Bar Energy Bar, Chocolate Chip. It's got a drawing of a guy hanging perilously off a mountain on the package. They are perhaps trying to warn me that eating their product will put me at some risk of falling from a great height… again, a questionable marketing strategy. But more likely they are flattering me…eaters of this bar are daredevils, they suggest, real risk takers! Who knows what adventure I will undertake next?

And the first thing one notices is how difficult it is to open the wrapper. I almost knocked myself out of my chair pulling the thing apart—not a good sign for those among us inclined to eat this while actually hanging off that mountain!

The bar itself is genuinely horrible-looking. I was concerned that it was merely chocolate chip flavor and not chocolate because there really isn't much information about the flavor of the material in which the chocolate chips are embedded, and sure enough, it's just a bunch of oat-and-nut-looking stuff glued together.

Ok then. One tiny bite and Ah! Ah! Ah! Get! This! Out! Of! My! Mouth!. It's VILE. Bitter and sticky and altogether too reminiscent of the stuff sold in health food stores in the 70s…remember? In the days before granola had marshmallows? Bleeaach! Easily the worst of all this week, even worse than the High Protein Balance Complete Nutrition Energy Bar, Chocolate, to which I admit giving a small bonus for the attempt at chocolate. This one made no effort even to try to hide its awfulness, and that feels disrespectful to me. I have no choice but to consider the Cliff Bar Energy Bar, Chocolate Chip my Personal Enemy.

Rating: F.

Thursday, May 22, 2003

Failure of the Day: Nutrition, Part 4

Today's candidate: PowerBar Protein Plus High Protein Bar, Chocolate Peanut Butter. (Gee, do you think there's protein in it?) 24 grams of protein in fact, more than twice as much as any of the other bars sampled so far. One must assume that this thing is clearly much, much better for me than the others…or it could be just that bar itself is HUGE.

I'm actually a little scared of this one. It just doesn't look…friendly or something. But I press on. First bite…you have to chew it several times before you can taste anything at all, and that's at once odd and something of a relief. It is very dense and chewy and it does that thing where the bit that you bite off sticks in its entirety to the back of your teeth. Adhesive qualities notwithstanding, it has, from what I can gather after 5 bites, no flavor whatsoever. This is not a bad thing.

So, I'm like 3/4ths done with it and I'm getting really full and really thirsty. It's cool, though because with the chewing and swallowing it is remarkably like eating, but without the taste. So to sum up: I get all that protein, I am full when I'm done, and it's got a satisfying "eating" quality to it. It strikes me as very futuristic: they should call this Nutritious Edible Substance.

Rating B+

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Failure of the Day: Nutrition, Part 3

Today's candidate: Luna: the Whole Nutrition Bar For Women, Nutz Over Chocolate. How nice, it's for women, for our special needs. Which apparently do not include spelling. This one has 10 grams of protein, which makes me a little nervous because it's occurred to me that the protein itself is the thing that tastes bad.

Well, it looks nice but it smells a little funny. Bite two…it's not bad…kinda granola bar-ish. It doesn't so much taste like peanut butter as have a peanut butter essence. The wee bit of chocolate on the bottom seems to actually be chocolate, which is a nice surprise. This is actually pretty good. The texture is identical to rice krispie treats, and I'm not sure you can go wrong with that.

Rating A-

(shameless bragging interlude) I just had what I must confess was a pretty damn great phone interview for a job as editorial manager for MyPleasure.com. May I tell you that they said they received 375 resumes and whittled it down to 12 for phone interviews? That's a shot in the arm, to be sure. On the plus side I would love love love that job. On the minus side I'd need to find a way to tell Chris's parents that I work for a web site that sells sex toys. I'll find out Monday if I made the cut for an in-person interview. The obvious thing to do is to keep my fingers, if not my legs, crossed.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Failure of the Day: Nutrition, Part 2

Today's candidate: High Protein Balance Complete Nutrition Energy Bar, Chocolate. They all seem to have ridiculously long names. I don't think that's a good marketing strategy, frankly. My favorite candy bar is Snickers, which are great, and they don't have to call them Chocolate Gives You A Sugar Rush And Peanuts Have A Lot Of Fat But That Gives You Energy Snickers Bar, now do they? And do you know why? Because they taste good. That's why.

Anyway, this one is a little smaller than yesterday's, and it has clearly been dipped in chocolate although it doesn't say so. It smells kind of like one of those Slim Fast bars I used to eat all the time. Second bite now and although I was initially pleased with the fact that there aren't any lumps of stuff in it, there is a distinct chemical after taste. Which is getting stronger now, and even less pleasant.

Well. This one is, in fact, horrible. Not as bad as the Met Rx but in the same vein. I made it through three bites but now I'm throwing it away. And now I'm going to the kitchen to get a banana because A) I'm starving and B) I would really like to have this taste out of my mouth now.

Yes. That's better. One really has to wonder how products like the High Protein Balance Complete Nutrition Energy Bar, Chocolate make it to the market. I assume they did all manner of focus groups and the like. I imagine they went something like this:

Focus group participant: "This tastes like ASS!"
Marketing Director: "Uh-oh."
Vice President of Small, Bad-Tasting Things: "Maybe it's OK…people don't want health food to be too delicious…"
Focus group participant: "Yeah, but this tastes like ASS!"
Marketing Director: "That's true, health food nuts are Calvinists at heart.
Vice President of Small, Bad-Tasting Things: "All the studies say so."
Marketing Director: "Maybe we'll just add a couple of words to the name!"
Focus group participant: "One of the words should be ASS!"
Vice President of Small, Bad-Tasting Things: "A long name? My God, that's genius! You just earned your bonus, son!"

Rating :D-

Monday, May 19, 2003

Failure of the Day: Nutrition, Part 1

This week's adventure: Energy Bars! I am informed by Reliable Sources that if I should desire to build muscle, I must, in addition to shvitzing my ass off at the YMCA, consume more protein. To that end, I have decided that I will sample the variety of nutrition bars available to me, and report on their general levels of nastiness.

A couple of weeks ago, I had one from Chris's store, called Met-Rx Protein Complete High Energy Bar, Chocolate Peanut Roast. That's a pretty long name for something smaller than my hand, and yet even with all those descriptive words, they neglected to inform me about the paint thinner-flavored nougat it was filled with.

But still I persist. Today's experiment is called PowerBar Harvest Whole Grain Energy Bar, Double Chocolate. The wrapper also sports the word "dipped" randomly floating near the picture, apropos to nothing, apparently. Anyway, lets see what I must endure for my 7 grams of protein. The little fella smells nice enough, and during my first two bites, nothing seems overwhelmingly wrong with it. Fifth bite now, and I note that the flavor is still fine but I wonder if they haven't found a way to individually wrap black holes. It is very, very dense. My jaw is actually tired; a great deal of chewing is required. It must also be noted that it has very plainly not been dipped in anything.

Well, that wasn't so bad, actually. Tasted OK, and I suppose I can consider it a workout for my jaw as well as protein delivery mechanism. It had cute little choco-chips on top of it (FOUR of 'em!) that I appreciated, even though they all fell off upon removing the wrapper. I am not above digging chocolate out of the crease between my thigh and hip, especially here in private.

Rating: B.

Friday, May 16, 2003

Failure of the Day: Reading material

Well, the situation is quite desperate indeed. Having just been loaned 7 books by a friend, I thought I would be good for a while. I blazed through the first of the loaners, a novel called Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, which I liked just fine. I moved on to the second loaner, and that was a BIG mistake.

See, I'm really only interested in reading things that can help me in some way with my novel, which is to say I want to read about Women In Difficult Circumstances. So book #2 is Requiem For A Woman's Soul, a diary of a priest in South America who stumbles across the diary kept by a woman being tortured in the most horrible ways imaginable. It's a real diary, the woman is real and the events described happened.

I do most of my reading just before bed. Oops.

Suffice to say, that was not a good idea; Wednesday night, the night I started the book, I was awake for hours, haunted by what I had read, which was really only the first 37 pages, which are already the most awful thing I've ever seen. I decided to continue with the book, but only in the afternoons. So I still need something to read at night.

Most of the other loaners look swell, but they're not particularly relevant to my writing just now. (Chris disagrees; his perfectly reasonable point is that anything well-written will be helpful to me. He's probably right, but I'm stubborn as all hell.) So I'll read them in a few weeks, after I've exhausted the little train of thought I've been on for the last little while.

Last night I started Eleven Karens, which I picked up remaindered for $2.98 last month, despite the fact that it was released less than 2 months ago. It's a guy's life told through relationships with women named Karen, and that appeals to me from a structural point of view. Trouble is, it's asinine.

So I'm back to where I started with nothing to read. All I really want is a beautifully-written book about a woman with a lot a of diseases. And that's the trouble—that book isn't done yet.

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Failure of the Day: Not Kurt Vonnegut. Nope. Not Kurt at all.

The following is adapted from a Clemens Lecture presented by Kurt Vonnegut in April for the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut.

First things first: I want it clearly understood that this mustache I’m wearing is my father’s mustache. I should have brought his photograph. My big brother Bernie, now dead, a physical chemist who discovered that silver iodide can sometimes make it snow or rain, he wore it, too.

Speaking of weather: Mark Twain said some readers complained that there wasn’t enough weather in his stories. So he wrote some weather, which they could insert wherever they thought it would help some.

Mark Twain was said to have shed a tear of gratitude and incredulousness when honored for his writing by Oxford University in England. And I should shed a tear, surely, having been asked at the age of 80, and because of what I myself have written, to speak under the auspices of the sacred Mark Twain House here in Hartford.

What other American landmark is as sacred to me as the Mark Twain House? The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Mark Twain and Abraham Lincoln were country boys from Middle America, and both of them made the American people laugh at themselves and appreciate really important, really moral jokes.

I note that construction has stopped of a Mark Twain Museum here in Hartford —behind the carriage house of the Mark Twain House at 351 Farmington Avenue.

Work persons have been sent home from that site because American “conservatives,” as they call themselves, on Wall Street and at the head of so many of our corporations, have stolen a major fraction of our private savings, have ruined investors and employees by means of fraud and outright piracy.

Shock and awe.

And now, having installed themselves as our federal government, or taken control of it from outside, they have squandered our public treasury and then some. They have created a public debt of such appalling magnitude that our descendants, for whom we had such high hopes, will come into this world as poor as church mice.

Shock and awe.

What are the conservatives doing with all the money and power that used to belong to all of us? They are telling us to be absolutely terrified, and to run around in circles like chickens with their heads cut off. But they will save us. They are making us take off our shoes at airports. Can anybody here think of a more hilarious practical joke than that one?

Smile, America. You’re on Candid Camera.

And they have turned loose a myriad of our high-tech weapons, each one costing more than a hundred high schools, on a Third World country, in order to shock and awe human beings like us, like Adam and Eve, between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.

The other day I asked former Yankees pitcher Jim Bouton what he thought of our great victory over Iraq, and he said, “Mohammed Ali versus Mr. Rogers.”

What are conservatives? They are people who will move heaven and earth, if they have to, who will ruin a company or a country or a planet, to prove to us and to themselves that they are superior to everybody else, except for their pals. They take good care of their pals, keep them out of jail—and so on.

Conservatives are crazy as bedbugs. They are bullies.

Shock and awe.

Class war? You bet.

They have proved their superiority to admirers of Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain and Jesus of Nazareth, with an able assist from television, making inconsequential our protests against their war.

What has happened to us? We have suffered a technological calamity. Television is now our form of government.

On what grounds did we protest their war? I could name many, but I need name only one, which is common sense.

Be that as it may, construction of the Mark Twain Museum will sooner or later be resumed. And I, the son and grandson of Indiana architects, seize this opportunity to suggest a feature which I hope will be included in the completed structure, words to be chiseled into the capstone over the main entrance.

Here is what I think would be fun to put up there, and Mark Twain loved fun more than anything. I have tinkered with something famous he said, which is: “Be good and you will be lonesome.” That is from Following the Equator. OK?

So envision what a majestic front entrance the Mark Twain Museum will have someday. And imagine that these words have been chiseled into the noble capstone and painted gold:


One of the most humiliated and heartbroken pieces Twain ever wrote was about the slaughter of 600 Moro men, women and children by our soldiers during our liberation of the people of the Philippines after the Spanish-American War. Our brave commander was Leonard Wood, who now has a fort named after him. Fort Leonard Wood.

What did Abraham Lincoln have to say about such American imperialist wars? Those are wars which, on one noble pretext or another, actually aim to increase the natural resources and pools of tame labor available to the richest Americans who have the best political connections.

And it is almost always a mistake to mention Abraham Lincoln in a speech about something or somebody else. He always steals the show. I am about to quote him.

Lincoln was only a Congressman when he said in 1848 what I am about to echo. He was heartbroken and humiliated by our war on Mexico, which had never attacked us.

We were making California our own, and a lot of other people and properties, and doing it as though butchering Mexican soldiers who were only defending their homeland against invaders wasn’t murder.

What other stuff besides California? Well, Texas, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, and parts of Colorado and Wyoming.

The person congressman Lincoln had in mind when he said what he said was James Polk, our president at the time. Abraham Lincoln said of Polk, his president, our armed forces’ commander-in-chief: “Trusting to escape scrutiny by fixing the public gaze upon the exceeding brightness of military glory, that attractive rainbow that rises in showers of blood —that serpent’s eye, that charms to destroy, he plunged into war.”

Holy smokes! I almost said, “Holy shit!” And I thought I was a writer!

Do you know we actually captured Mexico City during the Mexican War? Why isn’t that a national holiday? And why isn’t the face of James Polk up on Mount Rushmore, along with Ronald Reagan’s?

What made Mexico so evil back in the 1840s, well before our Civil War, is that slavery was illegal there. Remember the Alamo?

My great-grandfather’s name was Clemens Vonnegut. Small world, small world. This piquant coincidence is not a fabrication. Clemens Vonnegut called himself a “freethinker,” an antique word for humanist. He was a hardware merchant in Indianapolis.

So, 120 years ago, say, there was one man who was both Clemens and Vonnegut. I would have liked being such a person a lot. I only wish I could have been such a person tonight.

I claim no blood relationship with Samuel Clemens of Hannibal, Missouri. “Clemens,” as a first name, is, I believe, like the name “Clementine,” derived from the adjective “clement.” To be clement is to be lenient and compassionate, or, in the case of weather, perfectly heavenly.

So there’s weather again.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Failure of the Day: Indecision

I've got a pretty sweet set-up here, work-wise. As has been made abundantly clear to just about everyone by now, except for when I go to the gym, all I wear, morning noon and night during the week is some form of pajamas. Chris doesn't even tease me about it anymore, it's so commonplace.

I like the work I do and I'm reasonably well-paid for it. But here's the thing: (Seriously, I should re-name this blog "but here's the thing") I'm perpetually anxious that the work is going to dry up and there won't be enough for me to do. And I get paid by the hour; I'm not on salary, so no work=no pay, and that freaks me out. Publishing is a hurry up and wait industry, I know, and the lulls we've had so far have not been that long and my company seems to be weathering the storm alright, but it's still nerve-wracking to have to send out emails every Friday scrounging for something to do during the next week.

So I'm applying for jobs. I thought I was pretty well situated (and I would be, in a different economy) with my level of skill and experience (not knowing QuarkXPress notwithstanding), but these days, every editing job posted on Craig gets something like 600 resumes, I hear.

I just really can't decide if I want to pursue freelancing for a while longer. Telecommuting really does rule, and I imagine I'd miss it ferociously once I start hauling ass downtown on the 8:02 1 California AX again. But maybe it'd be worth it for the steady work and lack of anxiety. Maybe I'm not the freelance type…I'm prone to panic even when everything is fine, after all.

But I have a full time telecommute job now, and so far, they haven't left me in the lurch. And maybe I should just leave well enough alone.

So you see my quandary. And it has nothing to do with employment; it's really just that I can see the pluses and minuses of everything and can decide nothing.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Failure of the Day: TV Vortex, as promised (threatened, really)

So after a particularly satisfying Mr. Personality (I don't trust that Mr. Green one bit!), I toddled off to read in bed while Chris puttered a bit in the kitchen. After a minute, he usually comes into the bedroom to blow up the Bad Men in his computer. Lately, it's been homicidal mimes, for reasons about which I'm still not entirely clear.

Anyway, several minutes pass and I am engrossed in the much-needed "Plotting" chapter of The Art of Fiction when from the living room, Chris calls "Pooh!" (Yes. We call each other "Pooh." Shut up.) He calls, "Pooh! Can't…stop…watching…Three's Company…movie!" And it's true; he's been sucked in to the TV vortex. And every few minutes after that, he calls out what passes for plot points: "Oh, it's the one when there's a terrible misunderstanding!" "Oh, Suzanne Sommers is really screwing over Joyce DeWitt!"

I shout words of support back to him: "Resist!" I shout. "You must fight the TV Vortex!" I try to lure him from the TV: "Don't you want to blow up the bad men?" I tell him that the mimes on his computer are talking smack about him. "They're calling you a pussy! Are you gonna stand for that? From a mime?!"

It's no use. The dramatized Three's Company behind-the-scenes movie is too strong. It's straight out of Max Headroom; it's a blipvert. He's powerless to resist.

Finally, I get out of bed and go to the living room where Chris stands in front of the couch watching TV. (Such is the gravity of the movie: he was unable even to bend his knees to sit on the couch while watching. (Seriously. 100% true.)) I have no choice but to pull out my Ace. "This is a highly blogworthy event, you know." I tell him. "You wouldn't want everyone to know that you got sucked into the Three's Company made for TV movie, would you?" He's riveted, though. He can't respond. Finally, there's a commercial, and I take his hand and pull him into the bedroom. Whew. That was a close one!

Monday, May 12, 2003

Failure of the Day: Blaming the geography for the acts of the people who live on it

Spent a good portion of yesterday in Fremont; taking Chris's mom out for Wienershnitzel and hot fudge sundaes turned out to be a pretty great idea. But my relationship with that place is…evolving, shall we say. For some periods of time while I was there yesterday, I would glare at the patches of iceplant on the side of the road and just loathe it: that iceplant of my lost and hated childhood. Same for the creek on Grimmer Blvd and the gravel surrounding it and several random trees and swatches of grass.

And it's odd to have to keep telling yourself: It's not Fremont's fault. That tree never did a damn thing to me. This is not a Steven King story, and the town is not inherently Evil. It's really only my mother and a couple of other people who live on that ground at whom my emotion is directed. It's not logical to loathe an iceplant because of what Lee Glover said to me in 11th Grade. And there's a perfectly sensible argument to made that I shouldn't even still loathe Lee Glover, but that is a failure for another day.

The point is, I go back to Fremont more often now than I did when I was still speaking to my parents, and I sometimes wish irony weren't so damn ironic. When I'm there, I have a nice if slightly tense time. I notice that it is not such a horrible place; it is certainly maximized for shopping convenience, and that is not without its charm to me. And I look at the houses in a new way now that the idea that I might someday own one exists in my head. They aren't so bad really; they are largely well kept and friendly even if virtually identical. A person could do worse.

And still, underneath my more rational reactions, there is a burning ball of Hell that just plain exists in the pit of my stomach at the mention of the words Blacow Road. You have to go down Blacow to get to my parent's house, but you go down it to get to Chris's parent's house too. And when I chose Chris, I chose to periodically go down Blacow. And driving that road with a person who loves me and toward more people who love me de-claws it for long enough that I don't jump out of my skin. And although that's not exactly the pinnacle of rationality, it's a marked improvement.

And this is what I signed on for. I married Chris because he is the smartest and funniest and kindest human being I have ever known and he astonishes me daily with his capacity to effortlessly demonstrate those traits. But also because he is very nearly the only living soul who can redeem my childhood, who can cure me of it, and in doing so, can cure me of Fremont as well. And if that's the opposite of what I set out to achieve, namely to forget that a town called Fremont ever existed, well, ain't life a kick in the head.

Friday, May 09, 2003

Failure of the Day: Lessons

Just back from the YMCA after my lesson on how to use the weight machines. It strikes me as odd that I require such instruction: weight machines, as far as I can tell, more or less exist to make your muscles hurt, and I've never needed help hurting myself before. It's analogous to, say, if I were to have taken a class in my 20s on how to pick out the most inappropriate guy possible to sleep with. Some things just come naturally to me.

But all those painted metal bars and disturbing triangular seats…it's not the most intuitive thing in the world to plop down on a weight machine. I don't even know which way to face on most of them. (Wow, the "inappropriate guy" metaphor just keeps working.) And then there's all the "towel etiquette" in gyms, which brings up another whole category of things at which to fail…am I really supposed to be sweating so much on the seat that I need to put a towel down? I'm just not so shvitzy.

But still, now I have all the required expertise to use the Hip Abduction machine, so let's hear it for me. I've always wanted something to abduct my hips. It's nice though; it's been fairly easy for me to forget that I even have muscles, let alone be bothered to make them do stuff, but the truth is, those machines are so focused on some particular muscle group or another that it's kind of cool to feel each one in turn. I spend a good amount of time feeling the location and function of each of my organs (I have kind of an absurd level of body awareness), so it's only fair that I spend some quality time with the muscles. And I suppose in the long run it supposedly will help prevent me from keeling over from a coronary. And that's a swell thing to move a little lower on the list of things I have to worry about. Fucking up my novel now firmly occupies the #1 position, and imminent death slips comfortably into #2. Good job, Nance!

Thursday, May 08, 2003

Failure of the Day: Second Draft

I took stock of where I am with Ye Olde Novel last night and was pleased to discover that I am nearly halfway through the second draft. I responded to this bit of good news in typical fashion: by finding something about it to worry about.

I have a very specific idea about what I am trying to do in the second draft; that is, taking the skeleton of mere reportage and only the grossest of emotional components and re-writing it as a cohesive narrative with emotional development as the story arc. Plus I have loads to say about being a cog in the medical system, disability and society, and that most elusive of all things, a female idea of freedom and identity.

And although that last sentence makes it sound like the reader would rather take a power drill to her temple than read the thing, I think I've got a pretty good thing going here. It's the only novel I could possibly write, and certainly the only one I will ever write, and I owe it to my overblown sense of self to do it well. Or at least correctly.

I've set November 1 as the deadline by which I want to be finished with this draft, and I'm moving toward that target nicely, I think. But (no surprises in conjunction land, I'm afraid. Everyone knew there would be a But.) I worry that rather than creating a second draft, I am creating another version of the first draft. And I worry that I am not equipped to know the difference. Speak up, writer pals. How do you know you're doing what you intend to be doing and not some other thing?

I know that in the vast and howling subjective hell of writing, the only guide you can have is your own person self, but it also seems like some things are just plainly mistakes. And I'd like to, y'know, not have so many of those. I'm putting my faith into John Gardner for the time being, but I'm just about to start reading one of his novels and if it sucks, I'll be at square one again, looking for some guy to slightly de-subjectify prose writing for me.

Man! Poetry is so much easier.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Failure of the Day: Muscle

Today I am joining the YMCA. I've been hemming and hawing about it since I moved back in town, to an apartment less than 3 blocks from the Richmond district branch. I'm signing up, finally, because I've been here long enough to know how my income from my new/old job hashes out in the new/old town, because my cholesterol is too high, and because my ass is too big.

This will be the third time I've joined the Richmond District YMCA in the last 10 years. It will be the first time that I will pay the full membership fee rather than the SSI po' folk next-to-nothing membership fee, though, and although I wouldn't kick up a fuss if it were still only $13 a month to be a member, I'm happy to pay the full price because doing that—like a huge number of other things I do—reminds me of the many differences between the old normal and the new normal.

I don't want to say that the new normal is better than the old normal because if feels like saying that denigrates not just my life during the intense period of my disability, but also the lives of other people with serious mobility impairments. I don't want to sell that out just because I'm happier in 2003 than I was in 1993.

I am happier now, though I would expect that would be the case whether or not I had gone into remission before marrying Chris. But the comparison between the normals are in much sharper relief since coming back to SF. So much sameness, so much difference. Or rather, the place is the same, and that highlights how different I am. Tommy's Joynt is still great, but I can carry my own tray now and that makes it different. It's still the same old Mission, stuffed with attractive hipsters, but I've got no reason to go there. None of them have anything I want, and that makes it really different.

And now the Y. The big difference isn't going to be the membership fee, of course. The last time I joined I had just gone into remission and had a LOT of atrophy to deal with. But most of that has passed, and now pretty much when I want to move a muscle, it just goes ahead and moves, and I don't have anything clever or funny to say about that at all. But I don't expect that this will translate into any sort of ease for me when I settle into the workout machines; I still have to do that thing, that doing something that my brain wants to do but that my body doesn't. I'm terrible at that. I kept waiting for the joy, which I imagined in terrific detail while I was crippled, that would accompany using my muscles again if I ever could. The joy never came; it still sucks to exercise. And that's because for however different I am now, on the most basic level, I am still the same person I always was. There are two ways I can look at that fact. The first way is the theme of my novel: A victory of the personality over the betrayals of the body. The second way is the theme of this blog: I haven't learned a thing.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Failure of the Day: The Suffering that Makes a Monster

So you know how I said that thing about not having to deconstruct X1 to the 17th layer to get the emotional content? I think it's worth mentioning that I myself am a great fan of deconstructing to the 17th layer to get the emotional content.

X2 is great. It's a weensy bit long, perhaps, and the queer subtext is charming, if obvious. The flashback scenes with Wolverine are wrenching and very powerful; right up my alley. But here's the thing. It's Magneto who really, really does it for me, after the concentration camp scene in the first movie. He's the only movie villain I can remember that you can't help but empathize with, and he's even more complex in X2.

And this is where my thoughts wandered off... I think a parallel can be drawn between Magneto and the state of Israel. Psychologically, an over-arching "victim" status can and does all too often lend itself to an assumed posture of moral superiority and to a sense of being Owed. Jews, European and otherwise, were, it can be argued, owed the state of Israel after the Holocaust (though the spot where the UN chose to prop it up it was perhaps not the best idea it ever had).

But victim mentality is hard to shut off. And it is possible that in some instances, there might not be a very big leap from being the Sufferer Who is Owed Something to the moral monster that perceives it's own righteousness in all things. In other words, it's easy, as a victim, to believe that your suffering makes you better than those who have not suffered, and superior enough to be oblivious to the suffering that you yourself cause.

I don't guess this is any sort of bombshell; Oprah and Dr. Phil have been saying for years that anger is a mask for pain, and the truth of that seems obvious enough by now. But I like how that idea works as well writ large as it does for the individual. And I really like how the Magneto character in the film has been developed in such a way as to embody both the victimized individual turned to rage, and an entity that seeks to end a history of oppression by becoming the oppressor.

My point is, I think it's pretty damn cool that the psychology of the villain is so interesting and complex in a big blow-up-y movie.

Monday, May 05, 2003

Failure of the Day: Mutants

So no kidding this time, we really are going to see X-Men 2 today. No Daredevilesque cop-outs. This is one of the fewish comic book movies that I am looking forward to as much as Chris because X1 managed to accomplish the nearly unheard of: it had some fairly adult emotional content that you didn't have to deconstruct to the 17th layer to find. The first scene in the first X-Men movie was so powerful and moving to me that I about lost it right there in the Cinerama. Seriously, I was sobbing. It was amazing.

And as everyone under the sun has pointed out, there's the rub. But it's not just that sequels are so rarely as good as the original, it's that I fear that what I think was great about X1 is not the same thing that everyone else thought was great about it, so even though plenty of people are saying X2 is as good, I can't be sure they mean the same goodness that I mean.

Other Failure of the Day: Elvis Costello

OK, since I've just gone ahead and accepted that I mostly write about goddamn celebrities, I might as well round out the day's entry with this bit of strangely disappointing crap.

You'd think I'd know better than to confuse the artist with the art, but didn't "When I was Cruel" come out just last year? And didn't it have a really terrific love song for his wife on it, one of those rare breeds of love song that not only had a beat, but was a "mid-relationship" song as well? Most love songs are either a the relationship just started and I'm overwhelmingly in love with you kind of song, or a you just dumped me and I can't live without you song. Not much territory during the course of the relationship ever gets covered because I suppose it's considered less dramatic or poetic or something (which is vastly untrue, I think, but that's a topic for another day). But anyway, I think "15 Petals" is a great song about 15 years of marriage. Came out a year ago this month, as I recall.

And then this, some 6 months after the song came out.

And now this, barely 6 months later.

Maybe I'm making assumptions and involving myself more than is strictly necessary, but it really looks to me like EC was having an affair with this chick at the same time as he was releasing that great love song to his wife. And fine, artists are selfish pricks, but jeez louise, this makes me feel almost complicit the lie. He didn't just tell his wife that he loves her more than she knows, he told me that he loves his wife more than she knows. And I don't know, I don't really have a problem with serial monogamy; love dies sometimes, after all, and nobody should have to stick around in a lousy relationship, but for pete's sake, don't make a big to-do about how much you love someone if you're fixing to dump them for a Canadian tart, you know?

Friday, May 02, 2003

Failure of the Day: Science

All right, enough of this low-brow, celebrity-obsessed, (and over-hyphenated) crapola. Found this article on a blog I really like, Meme Cauldron (lookie how good I am at adding links now!)

I went through a whole big thing when I was in my early 20s and just coming to know quantum mechanics; I was trying to figure out just what's so weird about, y'know, matter, and I read a lot of books that enabled me to have conversations about things that I didn't understand. I've forgotten most of the bits that I did manage to grasp, and the rest of it was never really mine to remember, but the part that stuck is how great the vocabulary is.

And now everybody talks about the tired old uncertainty principle and usually gets it just precisely wrong but it's kind of Ok by me because the term " uncertainty principle" is so great that I don't mind hearing it misused because I just like hearing it in general.

And now we have Charm and Strange. It is almost enough to make me wish I were single again (but not really) because that's such a perfect personal ad header. And then add to that that these particle thingies represent a failure of theory…jesus, it's just got Nancy written all over it.

In my never-ending search for a title for my novel, I think seriously I will find it, not in the lines of one of Sexton's Transformations poems, but in a paper by some shmo at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center.

Thursday, May 01, 2003

Failure of the Day: Special Guest Stars

In my ongoing ruing of the missed TMBG show last night, I mentioned to Chris about all the special guest stars that have been performing with the band. So I got to thinking about celebrity surprise appearances in general and I thought I'd list mine. I have not included instances in which I have sought out a celebrity by going to a reading of theirs or getting a backstage pass of some sort. Nor have I included people (or rather, that one guy) who are famous now but who were not famous when I knew them.

The House of Prime Rib, featuring Nicholas Cage
The record store on 9th and Irving featuring Robin Williams
The corner of Geary and Taylor featuring Bono
The flight from Oakland to Seattle featuring Danny Glover
Green Apple books featuring Anton LeVey
MOMA featuring Andie MacDowell and John Waters
Club DV8 featuring Andy Warhol
SF Art Institute featuring Winona Ryder

Wow, I just spent kind of a long time trying to remember these and now I'm not sure why. Nobody incredibly impressive on the list, although, let's face it, Chris's only celebrity encounter was with Joanna Cameron, who played the Mighty Isis on the Shazam/ Mighty Isis Power Hour on Saturday morning TV when we were kids. I myself am impressed that he was able to recognize her at all, but given Chris's vast interest in A.) Random TV information, and B.) Girls with long brown hair, it's not too surprising.