Hello, Failure

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

Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Failure of the Day: What the Hell Was I Going to Say about the Potatoes?

I’m still behind. It’s harder than it seems to catch up. I haven’t written anything about xmas and it’s new years already. It’s OK though. I have a plan. I put up my 2004 calendar last night, some 36 hours early and I think the jump ahead and the lag of the last little while will balance each other out.

So then…xmas. It was lovely (even though I know something bad happened with the potatoes and I was going to write about it but now I can’t remember what it was). My mother-in-law gave a shitload of lime green items that truly delighted me. She went to Macy’s and bought literally every lime green accessory they had. Scarves, gloves, handbags, earrings, tights, hairclips, scrunchies, socks, and something called a “thong foot tube,” all in the shade of green that is pretty much taking over my personality. Excellent gifts, one and all. Thanks, Bev. (I write that to express gratitude yes but also because I am supposed to be calling her by her first name—that’s what children-in-law do, I’m told. Chris’s sister’s husband calls them by their first names. It’s accepted and expected. Trouble is, Chris’s mom worked in the library of my elementary school and it just feels SO WRONG. So I am practicing in writing first.)

Chris’s gifts to me as ever outnumbered my gifts to him by a ratio of 1.5:1. I think it worked out to roughly equal if you count the hot dogs and nachos at the football game though. Next year I will remember to make him agree to a predefined number of gifts.

And so after a happy holidays (which is a miracle in and of itself considering how much I despise xmas), 2003 ends very much like it began (which is to say, happy), except 700 miles further south (which is to say, home).

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Failure of the Day: Radical Pragmatism

I’m waaaaay behind on this. First, I’m 12 years behind on the play. It’s not entirely my fault: in 1991 I wasn’t aware that the play Angels in America was debuting in San Francisco because I was busy becoming crippled and an emotional wreck. So then I missed it for the next six years because I was pretty busy trying to keep myself alive and sheltered. The six years after that, I remember being vaguely aware of it as an “issue” play but I couldn’t ever keep straight whether it was an AIDS thing or a homelessness thing and I was also pretty busy first being astonished that I had survived the first 6 six years, and then trying to deny that those 6 years had ever happened and then finally remembering to have a personality separate from those 6 years. And now it’s 12 years later and I just saw the first 3 hours of the movie version on HBO and I’ve taped the second 3 hours but I haven’t watched it yet because I am totally losing my shit over it and I’m trying to pace myself.

Second, I’m about a month behind on discussing the movie version of the play because of both the whole “losing of my shit” business and also a more mundane ass kicking cold/flu that still has not let me be for coming up on 17 days.

The long and short of it is that the first half of it just wiped me out. Really good, interesting and intelligent art is hard enough to come by, but really good, interesting and intelligent art with a deep medical theme—holy shit. I know, I know, that’s not really what it’s supposed to be about, it’s all the politics of sex and death but the sickness part, the ongoing, permanent sickness is present enough in the play to seem to me a vital part of the cultural conversation about illness in general, and that’s more or less why I was interested in the thing to begin with. I have not been disappointed.

And so I became interested in Tony Kushner, who I am horrified to learn is a mere 10 years older than I am, which means he was younger than I am now when he wrote the fucken play. But even that must be put aside because he is rapidly becoming a hero of mine, not just because of the play, although that would be enough, but because I keep reading articles and interviews with him online and every single thing I read, I totally agree with.

I read in the latest Mother Jones that he is a “radical pragmatist,” and that term resonated through me like a fucking gunshot in the Sistine chapel. I’ve been trying to find the description for my politics for roughly 4 years now and I’ve finally found it in those two words. I am always happy to find descriptions like that—such economy! And his bit about how “Politics is not an expression of your moral purity,” I can only say Finally. Finally! An outspoken member of the Left who gets it! It’s thrilling to me, truly. And now I have to go to Green Apple and buy everything that guy ever wrote.

Monday, December 29, 2003

Failure of the Day: DVD

I got a couple of DVDs for xmas: Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns, the They Might be Giants documentary and Come Feel Me Tremble, the Paul Westerberg tour documentary. We watched both this weekend.

Gigantic really surprised me quite a bit…it’s a good bit more overblown than I—or anyone, really, who’s ever heard TMBG, I think—would expect. Both of the Johns come across as pompous and self-important, and it stands out all the more when compared to the music itself, which is so joyous and funny and wonderful. It’s not like you can not notice when one scene cuts back and forth between the Johns modestly proclaiming that it’s the other John who’s the real genius and then those same Johns hopping up on down with a back up band of three 70 year old men. It’s my new age old question: How can pretentious New York art fucks be so horrible when they speak and so wonderful when they sing?

Come Feel Me Tremble is a treat if for no other reason than it is the first time any of us have ever been able to see Paul Westerberg move in the privacy of our living rooms. It’s the first moving picture of him ever commercially released. The footage on the DVD was shot entirely by the fans who went to see him play during the Spring of 2002. I was hoping I’d be in it since the tour of in-store concerts that they filmed started in Seattle and I was roughly 18 inches from his guitar at that show. No such luck—I saw almost no footage from the Seattle show on the DVD.

Here’s the thing about Paul Westerberg—you really gotta hand it to him. When he’s on stage, he knows as well as every single other person in the room that everything he’s ever going to do that matters, he did already. His mark on the world was the Replacements and none of his solo stuff, however good it is, will ever make a dent in the legendary status that the old stuff has. And yet, there he is on stage, sweating, trying his best, and as doomed to failure as a soufflé in a mine field. He can play 45 minutes of Grandpaboy or 14 songs or the Singles soundtrack and they are all yeoman efforts, but when the time comes for the audience to yell the songs they want to hear, they yell Unsatisfied, they yell Alex Chilton and Left of the Dial.

Dyslexic Heart is a pretty good song, but no one yells it. Eyes like Sparks is the best song on the second Grandpaboy CD but no one yells it. We don’t crave those songs and Paul knows it. And this is why he is one of my heroes: he is still writing songs and putting out records even though it’s a foregone conclusion that they will fail. They are failures before they are written. No one will crave the song Paul Westerberg is writing in his basement at this moment. But he’s writing it anyway. So go buy Come Feel Me Tremble. Paul needs your support. And we all need something that reminds us that failure is the success of not not trying.

Saturday, December 27, 2003

Failure of the Day: Football

In my ongoing quest to be a Cool Wife—or really, to make up for the times when I am a hair-trigger shrew—I got Chris tickets to today’s 49ers/Seahawks game for xmas. It turns out it’s an important game for the Seahawks, who haven’t totally destroyed their chances of going to the playoffs yet, as the 49ers have.

Now, as most of you who have lived in other states/ big cities know, it is MUCH easier to root for a team when you don’t live in that that team’s town. Nothing kills my team spirit like having to actually be near the lugheads who are rooting for the same guys as me. And Chris is still a little lonely for Seattle, so we are Seahawks Fans. Or Chris is—I mostly say things like “The Seahawks are going to win for SURE!” so he will give me the stink eye for jinxing them.

So this morning we are fixing to take that $6 Muni Ride to the Sky—the 28X Ballpark Express to Candlestick. Chris has never been there and I haven’t been there since roughly the 3rd grade when my best friend Lawrence Martin and his mom took me to a Giants game. It should be pretty cool. I understand football these days so I’ll be able to follow what’s going on but I’m really excited about the carte blanche to eat all the hot dogs and nachos I want.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Failure of the Day: Potatoes, which I never actually get around to writing about, but believe me, today’s failure is indeed potatoes.

I’m on day two without decongestants although I’m still pretty dependent on cough syrup, Tylenol, and albuterol. It really seems like a gyp. This cold is lasting exactly as long as my colds used to last when I smoked. Where’s the value added?

I’ve got kind of a very verbal thing going today. As an unintentional xmas bonus (as opposed to the intentional and very generous Amex gift cheque), my client sent me the most delightful book to edit this week--a collection of blog entries (I recognize at least one entry from This American Life, which makes it less an actual blog entry than a polished essay published to the Web) it is a complete pleasure to read.

Plus I am under strict orders not to correct the grammar or spelling: it turns out they are paying me to look for space-hyphen-hyphen-space ( -- ) and convert it to an en-dash (—). Also, I am to turn straight quotation marks and apostrophes (" ' ' ") into curly quotation marks and apostrophes (“ ‘ ’ ”). And that is today’s lesson into copy editordom.

There’s more going on…but maybe I’ll get into it tomorrow.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Failure of the Day: Perk con’t.

Try not to get alarmed, but I am still in a completely terrific mood. I totally have the flu and am making almost no improvements toward getting better or hurling less crap out of my face, we have a Leak of Unknown Origin under the kitchen sink, and the heater in our apartment is getting less responsive to commands by the day, but for some reason, I’m still a-whistling a happy tune. I’ve got verve. Vim, even.

Of course, we have one of San Francisco’s few Nice Guy landlords who thinks we are just the cutest couple, so I’m not worried about the various apartment woes. They’ll get worked out, I’m sure. As for the Unfortunate Mucus Accumulation, what can I do? I drink orange juice and have bowl after bowl of chicken soup. I rest all day and take loads of cold pills. It’s weird because I have no idea how long these things are supposed to last…I’ve literally never had a cold as an adult that I haven’t prolonged greatly by smoking. I wake up in the morning and say to Chris “It’s Day 5. What happens today? Do I start to fell better yet?”

But even still, I feel swell. If it weren’t for the well established fact that I loathe xmas, I could be mistaken for someone infused with good tidings. It’s kind of starting to freak me out…I get the distinct impression that there is a piano being dropped from an airplane with my name on it. (That’s a weird Enola Gay-ish dangling modifier but you get the picture.)

I just got a really nice and unexpected xmas bonus from work…do you think that means they’re getting ready to fire me?

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Failure of the Day: A Surprising Bit of Pleasantness

In a great blast of good fortune I’m having what looks for all the world like a bit of a slow period at work that simply could not have been timed better because frankly, you would not believe the incredible shit that comes out of my nose that the most remarkable velocities.

Somehow, though, I am just about as cheerful as I have ever been. And sure there are those among you who will rush to point out how very little that says, really, but it’s true all the same. I’m chipper. I’m perky. I’ve no idea why. I suppose it could be that since I’m sick, I know I wouldn’t really be smoking right now anyway. It’s a bit of a thin distinction, but for the time being, I’m happy to be not smoking because I’m sick rather than because I’m a non-smoker.

It’s also that Chris has somehow managed to become even more hilarious than usual lately, and I have actually had to develop a “Seriously, shut up, I’m going to pee my pants” hand gesture.

Also, I think that whole “restored sense of taste” thing finally kicked in because right now everything is Just Incredibly Delicious. I had Arby’s on Sunday and lemme tell you, it was Just Incredibly Delicious. And the scrambled eggs Chris made me! My god! Just Incredibly Delicious. Oh, and I had a little sample Joseph Schmidt truffle on Saturday and I actually felt ripples of deliciousness pass over my entire face. I’m not kidding. I felt the deliciousness on my eyelids.

So ok, today, at least, is a good day to be a non smoker. It’s Day 64, by the way.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Failure of the Day: The Contagious World

I’m sick. It’s almost certainly my own fault after spending all last week gloating about how I never get colds and flu anymore since I have so little interaction with those festering tubes of contagion, Other People. I have Telecommuter Immunity. When I hear people say, “I have that flu that’s going around,” I go, “Really? I hadn’t heard.”

But that’s the thing, too; other people are sometimes funny and entertaining and sometimes they do cool junk like invite me to their houses. Of course, there are also the variety of Other People who cram themselves into shopping centers and restaurants and places like that, and for Pete's sake, it's 10 days before xmas, don't they know better than to stay away from malls? I mean, what's the matter with people? And there’s so damn many of them, those Other People. My point is this: one of them gave me their cold.

And even though there’s all kind of The Stand-like coolness about the killer flu going around right now and even though I had what for me at least is a fairly unique experience of noticing the moment when at first I didn’t have a cold, and then all of a sudden I did have a cold, and even though I take my liberties where I can and stomp around the public areas of my apartment building in pajamas and a scarf with my hair sticking out of my head at obtuse angles hoping to run into one of the 5 year olds who live here so as to foster a reputation as the scary crazy lady whom they must try their best to be very, very quiet around—and let’s face it, how much more fun could that be?—I’m still a bit grumpy about having a cold. Damn inconvenient is the thing.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Failure of the Day: Duh

Anybody ever wonder what it would sound like if 10,000 people simultaneously woke up hungover and remembered too late that they were supposed to do something yesterday? Open your windows, friends; you can probably still hear the tail end of that sound in your neighborhood.

And so it goes that the latest generation of hipsters learn the lesson that hipsters have been learning in San Francisco every 10-15 years for time immemorial: They are very good at organizing benefits and thinking up clever slogans for stickers, but they are very bad at actually voting. Oh well. Maybe the hipster class of 2015 will succeed at remaking the City in their image and alienating everyone who disagrees with them on even a single issue. But I doubt it.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Failure of the Day: Only one more day until I can stop my local political rants and start my national political rants

I had a brief by powerful surge of patriotism when I read about the successful campaign to make a bio/photo of GWBush the first site to come up when you enter “miserable failure” into Google.

It was quickly countered when I remembered that tomorrow I have to vote for fucking Matt Gonzalez, who can’t seem to understand that Ralph Nader serves the same purpose as Pat Buchanan—to steal 3% of the votes from fringes and let the zealots feel that they really showed somebody something with their vote.

I have to vote for Matt Gonzalez tomorrow, though, because I’m pretty consistent in my logic, I think, and in this scenario, for me, voting for Gonzalez is analogous to voting for Gore.

Tomorrow, I can cast either:
A) A vote that helps ensure that at least some of what I believe to be desperately important is represented in the office for which I am casting my vote.
B) A vote that helps ensure that none of what I believe to be desperately important is represented in the office for which I am casting my vote.

Sure, I loathe the Greens for a variety of reasons, but I am positively tickled to say that my loathing is not irrational enough to make me choose option B over option A. Sure, I could cast a protest vote against the Greens for their attempts to dismantle the entire democratic power base (not to mention Gonzalez’s complete disregard of my neighborhood) but when push comes to shove, I don’t have it in me to screw that many people over so I can throw a political tantrum. So I’m going to do something people don’t much like to do but that is fairly important when you are living in a society with other humans. Greens, practice saying it with me : Com-pro-mise.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Failure of the Day: Relativity

So, you have to laugh that I consider a 15-day, full-body, itchy rash an avoidance of a medical catastrophe. It’s all relative, dontcha know.

But I am happily all one color again and I have finally stopped smelling like camphor and oatmeal so things are on the upswing. It has also been 52 days since I have had a cigarette, not counting 1.5 herbal monstrosities during week 3 and two angry puffs of a Doral Light behind a gas station in Oakland, which is a long story and not very flattering and anyway, the point is it tasted totally gross and I threw the rest away so it doesn’t count.

I still really want a cigarette and I often while away the afternoons thinking up dreamy scenarios in which the world is going to be destroyed in two years and everybody’s going to die anyway, so I get to start smoking again because, really, what’s the point?

In truth, I’m doing ok. It won’t be long now before I can return phone calls and emails and be a regular communicative person again, at least to the whatever extent I ever was one.