Hello, Failure

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

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Failure of the Day: Vay-Kay

The Plan, so far is coming along nicely. My closet (and look, I am of course aware that world ended in south Asia over the weekend, but that just got piled onto the heap of horrible things that I am Ignoring As Best I Can To Preserve My Own Sanity. OK? What am I supposed to do with the fact of 114k dead and counting, anyway?) is now very tidy and I have six enormous hefty bags of clothes and shoes that I’m dropping off at a donation center tomorrow. (I mean, it’s not like I can do more than write a check, and once that’s done, dwelling on the horror and feeling crappy about all those people doesn’t actually count as being helpful. So might as well get on with it.)

I’ve been watching Carnivale. Gothic, Good v Evil story about depression-era traveling carnies; it’s more or less what it would look like if Nick Cave exploded in my TV. I’ve seen the first 6 episodes so far, and they’re pretty good. One of the stars is an actor named Clancy Brown, who I’ve liked ever since he played Rawhide in my beloved Buckaroo Banzai, and I like him even more now that I’ve realized that he looks just like Jon Stewart, if Jon Stewart were a giant. I also can’t seem to shake the image if Clancy Brown using Jon Stewart as a ventriloquist dummy, but that’s both kind of gross and stolen from Killer Klowns.

So it’s a fine vacation so far. My end-of-year panic attack came this morning when I woke up absolutely certain that my plan for the day of washing my hair and then laundering a load of sheets of towels contained the seeds of our doom, and that I would make one decision that would result in our spending the rest of our lives gnashing our teeth and rending our clothes. But then Chris got out of the shower and told me with great patience and kindness that I was possibly worrying a bit too much, and it turns out I was. So he went to work and I had a latte. And that brings us just about up to date.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Failure of the Day: In With The New and Such and Whatnot

I’m officially on vacation; I don’t go back until January 3rd. I don’t actually need a vacation, but I took the time off as a matter of principle. According to the employee handbook, (which, after a few years of being an independent contractor and having no employment benefits of my own, made for a delightful and riveting read), employees who begin work in July accrue 4 days of paid vacation during the calendar year they begin their employment. Now, because I’ve worked there for just shy of six months, I didn’t get a raise this month, as most of my co-workers did, so it seemed the least I could do was use my vacation time. And being the savvy girl I am, I spotted 4 days that could, in conjuction with the company-wide official holidays and two weekends, be parlayed into ten straight days off.

I don’t have anything to do with my time off. I intend to clean the living hell out of my closet and donate a buttload of clothes to the Goodwill and then sell a large number of books that I really and truly don’t need any more (the secret society encyclopedias and my large collection of very stupid Timothy Leary’s books, for example).

Chris has 3-day weekends the rest of the month but other than that he’s working next week, so during the days I intend to indulge my new latte habit write my arse off. The three Joanna Newsom songs I’ve heard fill my head with lines of poetry so tiny and intricate that could have been crocheted by grasshoppers. I haven’t picked up her whole CD yet because Chris misconstrued our rule about not buying himself presents after Thanksgiving as also applying to me, and so I have had to wait. I’ve made do with the excellent Funeral by the Arcade Fire, which I warmed to slowly and now listen to little else.

And there you have it, my 2004 survival guide, figured out with 8 days to spare: get some rest, give some stuff away, find and listen to music that makes you write, and put 3 packets of Splenda in each and every latte. Happy what have you.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Failure of the Day: Now with More Self-Loathing!

Over the last couple of days, I have grown increasingly sick of myself. I’m just tired of my same old thoughts, and anymore, my personality irritates me.

I used to be better at getting out of my own head, not surprisingly I suppose, during the time when I was feeling the most trapped in my body. These days though, I think that perhaps because I am less my own physical enemy, I am more of my own psychological enemy. (I expect to pay big time for typing that I am physically kind of OK, by the way; if I’m in traction by xmas, you’ll know why.)

I was lying in bed this morning waiting for the alarm to go off, and I tried for around the millionth time in my life to concentrate on my breathing to the exclusion of everything else. I’m really terrible at that. I have all these yoga tapes that I thought I would be really good at since I’m so limber, but the skinny white lady in the leotard keeps badgering me to focus on my breath, and the minute I try to do that—well, what happens then is that I fall over because seriously, those positions are pretty hard to be in even when I’m focused on my legs. When my attention shifts, my balance just evaporates into a roomful of little popping bubbles.

Even when it’s some sitting down position, though, I just can’t think about only my breathing. It’s boring. And when I start to concentrate, my mind starts to cheer itself on: “Yes, now you’re really focusing! You’re blocking everything else out!” But of course, the fact that I’m thinking that means I’m not focused on my breathing; I’m focused on thinking about focusing on my breathing, which I realize immediately and then start berating myself about—“Gah! You’re not focused on your breathing! You’re terrible at focusing!” And then I’ve got a whole spiral of meta-thoughts, which is of course the exact opposite of silencing the internal monologue.

I think this inability indicates a fundamental flaw in me. It probably means that I am superficial and self-obsessed and 16 different kinds of immature, not to mention pathetically bad at yoga despite the fact that I can scratch the top of my head with my toe.

It’s not entirely hopeless though; when I’m copyediting a good bit of text, my focus is pretty sharp and I’m not thinking the same thought about what the title of my novel should be for the squillionth time or very much else except whether the comma goes before or after the coordinating conjunction in an adverbial clause. And come to think of it, when I’ve run a particularly good search for orange flats on zappos.com, I could really give a shit about whether or not I said a stupid thing to a co-worker that I need to re-live a couple hundred times. Grammar wonkiness and shoe shopping isn’t exactly enlightenment, but I suppose it’s better than obsessing about my own stupid breath.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Failure of the Day: Weekend

Honestly, just a fabulous weekend. Every year around this time Chris’s parents come up to the city; we all go to lunch at the Cheesecake Factory and then do a bit of shopping at the Macy’s Holiday store. It makes for a lovely afternoon. They are adorable and really quite swank with their crabcakes and Saturday morning Bloody Marys. Plus they just love Chris to pieces and that’s such a pleasure to be around.

That was capped off on Saturday night when Jeff’s blog introduced me to the instantly beloved Joanna Newsom, and possibly the best song I’ve heard so far this century. And if her voice sounds like Lisa Simpson thrown into a bag of cats—and it does...a lot—the spectrum of what can be pleasing in a human voice becomes much broader when you listen to her, I thought. I tend to dislike female singers because so often they try only to sound pretty, and pretty is, y’know, just fine, but it’s still only one thing and there are plenty of other things to be. Her voice is so naturally unusual that it somehow encompasses all the variations of femininity without any of the exclusivity of your various subcultures. How much do I like her voice? Her lyrics are spectacular and I barely even noticed until 10th listen or so.

On Sunday we had dinner with Chris’s parents again, this time at the simultaneously comforting and impressive house of Chris’s great aunt Lidia and great uncle Paul, who live here in the city, in Cow Hollow. I had a great stroke of luck where Lidia is concerned; I met her for the first time 6 years ago when I was student teaching at Galileo High, which is where she graduated from some 65 years ago. Within 30 seconds of meeting me then, and upon my setting foot in her home last night, she was singing the Galileo fight song.

Lidia is hilarious and a wonderful cook, and Paul is a completely fascinating WWII vet and retired bigwig at BofA who’s traveled everywhere in the world and is all but bursting with stories. It was just about the most fun I’d ever had. I tell you, I’m doing my damnedest to keep hating xmas, I am. But I’m failing.