Hello, Failure

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

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Failure of the Day: Proximity to Disaster

On Friday, I was feeling cooped up after having waited all day for the damn UPS guy who never came but I was also full of malaise and ennui and was generally being crabby, so Chris piled me into the car, drove me to the little shopping center on Masonic and Geary, and left me alone to look at shoes while he poked around in Toys R Us. Then we went to Subway for dinner. When we got back barely an hour later, our entire block was barricaded because the top floor of the apartment building 2 doors down had burnt down.

When you are approaching your home and see instead 3 hook and ladder fire trucks and a red cross ambulance, it scares the shit out of you. It is just this kind of unique perspective that makes this blog such a pleasure to read, I know. Fire = scary! Count on me for a fresh take on things.

The fire was already out by the time we got home, and no one was hurt. I spent a fair amount of time standing on the sidewalk (along with my closest hundred or so neighbors) watching the firefighters work. This is the closest I’ve ever been to a structure fire and I was completely mesmerized by the process. I had no idea that the fire department stays so long in the burned out building. I understand that they were ensuring that there were no hot spots or flare-ups and such, but it was pretty incredible watching them bust out blackened window frames with axes and then shove scorched sofas and TVs out the hole and onto the sidewalk.

The whole block still smells awful and is a muddy, sooty mess. The piles of charred debris on the sidewalk are huge. But the burn marks on the house one door down from my building where the fire tried to jump but was stopped in time are still plainly visible. Man-o-man, do I ever love the fire department.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Failure of the Day: Tea Party

Today I found myself in the company of nine women over the age of 50, all wearing purple dresses and fairly extravagant red hats. We nibbled on crustless cucumber sandwiches, sipped tea from delicate china cups, and discussed Fremont’s upcoming Arts Festival. I tell you, it was the closest thing to being gentile that I have ever experienced.

When the conversation turned to my mother-in-law’s having spilled the beans that I am that most revered of all things, a published poet, the ladies wanted to hear all about it. I took a sip of tea and said, “I write mostly about brain tumors and fucking; you’d love it!” OK, I didn’t say that; I made up some barely passable crap about documenting the internal lives of women, but I thought that.

This red hat society thing is apparently huge with over-50 set, and I think it’s a perfectly lovely thing. (If anybody wants to make a boatload of cash, they should start designing and marketing red and purple glittery sneakers right away. Seriously.) It is so popular, in fact, that while we ate our dainty sandwiches, another red hat society group came into the restaurant. When I told Chris about the second group, he became very excited. “Was there a rumble?” he asked? “They were on your turf after all!” They came later in the afternoon though, and we were all much more interested in our petit fours than in fighting.

After lunch, we all poked around in antique stores, all of which carried red hat society accessories, all of which were purchased by the ladies. The leader of the ladies (in society parlance, “the Queen Mum”) kept pointing me toward the pink “Lady in Waiting” accessories that the under-50 society members wore. I was flattered by the invitation, I really was, but I’m not sure I want to spend the next 12 years actively anticipating being 50 so I can wear the brighter colors. All in all though, an interesting and unusual afternoon.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Failure of the Day: YAY! and the Incredible Coincidence

Chris got a new job. And then I got a new job. We both have our first day at work on July 6.

OK? So let it never be said that I bury the lead.

Chris is the new director of the textbook department at San Jose State. That’s a terrific turn of events for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that it will reduce the stress and hassle of his job by about 60 percent. St. Mary’s really didn’t want to let him go, but SJSU’s offer was too good to turn down. YAY!

And me, I finally got my damn ass hired in a real jobee job—we’re talking employee status with benefits—no more of this godforsaken nerve-racking freelancing crap. Also no more copyediting; I am now officially a Content Editor. Nice little company on Potrero Hill. I’m seriously thrilled and feeling triumphant, etc. It’s pretty nutty that we’re both starting on the same day; ain’t life a kick in the head.

And yes, I do believe I have the girly shoes to thank for my new good fortune. God only knows how Chris got hired—he showed up to his interview with nothing more than his profound intelligence, vast competence, unassailable skills, 12 years of industry experience, and regular black shoes.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Failure of the Day: Girly-Ass Shoes

Had what seemed like a promising job interview this afternoon (knock wood; I’m obscenely superstitious anymore). I got a pair of shoes especially for the interview. I’ve never done that before, and weirder still, the shoes themselves are deeply unlike any shoes I’ve worn for at least 15 years. They are not these exactly but they look much like them. Yes. They are seriously motherfucking girly. They have little bows on the side. The toes are very, very pointy. They are slingbacks for chrissakes.

This may not be stop-the-presses information for you, but it is for me. I am in fact waffling on my #1 axiom in life (“No part of the human foot should ever be exposed in public”). I worked in a downtown shoe store for 2 years in the mid 80s so I’ve seen too many feet as it is. They are ugly. Feet are terrible to look at. I resisted the sandals craze that has gripped the country for lo, these last several years because feet are so terrible. But the sandals! The sandals are so dang cute. And many of them, many of them are lime green. People, I say again: I’m not made of stone.

I would like very much to get the job. If I do (knock wood), I am 100% certain it will be because of the girly shoes.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Failure of the Day: Distraction

I myself wouldn’t mind a distraction from the week-long fetishization of the corpse of a heartless imbecile but I’ll have no such relief. It’s got a nice Russian doll quality to it anyway: my TV is a box and the only thing in the box is a picture of another box. I have meaner things to say about it but I’d just as soon keep them to myself.

My real distraction is the staggeringly great aforementioned Philip Roth book I am reading at the moment. It’s an absolute gold mine. I eschewed him for so many years—my perception of him was seriously skewed by seeing part of the movie of Portnoy’s Complaint, which of course is not fair, and nowhere even near fair, but can you do? The thing is, my perception has been utterly borne out in all but one of his novels that I’ve read so far. Of his earlier novels, The Anatomy Lesson is as painfully half-worlded as The Ghost Writer, if not moreso.

I’m coining that—as in “he’s a real half-worlder”—especially for Roth as a term pertaining to gender bias. His assumption that the male perspective is universal is so absolute and pervasive in his writing that it really does seem that the other half of the world doesn’t exist at all except as various orifices to be filled. It’s a world of men and cunts!—That was my perception of Roth’s writing after my bit of Portnoy, and I’ll be damned if I wasn’t dead-on. And I’m not even particularly sensitive to these kinds of things; most of what is hollered at for being sexist I think are just tiresome examples of stupidity more than anything else, and practiced by men and women alike.

That said, The Anatomy Lesson is still staggeringly great, especially for my purposes, which should be quite obvious considering it is a book about a guy who gets sick and goes to a lot of doctors who help him not one whit. The prose is an exercise in glorious precision but with none of the desert patches of Updike. I read it with pen in hand to mark the phrases and sentences that strike me, and I’ve yet to leave a single page unmarked. I can’t help it. Good writing gets to me. Even if it was written by a guy who—in the classic words spoken to a guy I used to know by a Berkeley professor—couldn’t see past the tip of his own white dick.

Maybe it’s my failing that I can’t hate the art of flawed people. I still like Woody Allen’s movies and Picasso’s paintings, too.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Failure of the Day: Dermis: The Surface Layer

Sometimes I think I do it just because I like the way it looks, even though no one can see.

It’s based on the standard visual shorthand for marriage: a couple in their pajamas, sitting in bed, pleasantly chatting every now and again, when they look up from their books. We don’t so much do that because Chris needs much less sleep than I do and therefore stays up much later, but he often sits at his computer in the bedroom while I am in bed reading. (I like this image so much I ended my novel with it—the uncured woman floating in shimmering blue light reflected off green walls, the hospital white banished.)

But even that isn’t all of it. It’s the book too. It’s who wrote the book.

One of the benefits of being married to a bookstore manager is that he orders any book I want and then brings it home to me. No; don’t ever underestimate the enormous number of outrageously thoughtful, generous, and kind things that he does every day. The most recent spate of books that I couldn’t find at Green Apple and that he special ordered just for me include:

The Fatigue Artist by Lynne Sharon Schwartz
The Anatomy Lesson by Philip Roth
Self-Consciousness by John Updike

I wanted the Updike memoir because it includes a long essay about his lifelong battle with psoriasis that I will plagiarize to within an inch of its parched life. But in general, his writing seriously drives me apeshit because it’s so dry, and I know it’s a personal failing on my part and everything, but if it weren’t for the whole psoriatic brotherhood thing, I swear I’d happily ignore him forevermore.

Except for the way it looks. Because it looks like that image, that ridiculous image in my head of the couple in bed, reading. The woman in the image, she’s reading Updike. And that means something to me that it doesn’t mean to anybody else, I think; a masculine and gentile and literary gentry thing that baffles and fascinates me. And excludes me, utterly and by definition.

So tonight and for a couple more nights, I’ll read about ole U’s skin, which vexes him in the same way my skin vexes me, but I will sleep in my perfect blue green bedroom with my masculine, gentile, and literary husband and be excluded from nothing.