Hello, Failure

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

Friday, January 28, 2005

Failure of the Day: Quality v Quantity

When I first got MS back in 1991, I’d never known anyone with MS and none of my friends knew anyone with MS. But that changed at some point; in the last several years, a handful of people I know have been diagnosed with it, and these days, almost everyone I disclose my disease to tells me that they know someone else with it as well.

As near as I can figure, this isn’t just a local phenomenon—all of a sudden MS is the new celebrity plague. Have you noticed? B- and C-listers are coming out of the woodworks to reveal their Dx. I remember the good ole days when it was just Annette Funicello and Richard Pryor. But last week, Larry King did a whole show about MS, and the panel was just absolutely stuffed with celebrities. (Or in some cases, “celebrities.” I mean, one of the Osmond brothers? And not even Donny? Come on!)

By and large, they are horrible as spokespeople. Even the ones who are legitimate artists and not complete Hollywood embarrassments are shitty at putting a non-smarmy public face on the disease. So it was with some trepidation that I read this article on Jonathan Katz, the latest celeb to come out as part of the Suck-Ass-Central-Nervous-System brotherhood.

I used to watch Dr. Katz and I appreciated his sensibility very much on that show, but you never know who’s going to go all “hope and flowers” when faced with something like this. But nope; not him. Thank god. He is still hilarious and utterly inappropriate and absolutely dead on. His bit about being super-competitive with other MS-ridden celebrities killed me: “I’m gonna make Teri Garr wish she had lupus!” (FYI, Paul: Katz is playing at a club in Somerville, MA that I think is pretty much right outside your front door tonight and tomorrow.)

Man, this is great! Finally some really quality celebrities have the same shitty disease as me!

Monday, January 24, 2005

Failure of the Day: Books and a Joke

It is a fairly rare occurrence that I don’t finish a book I’ve begun, but I seem to be in a kind of groove of unfinished books lately. None of them were so terrible as to be unreadable, although that was the case with The Normals, the first 42 pages of which I suffered through last fall, but nevertheless, these books just failed to make the grade for whatever reasons.

I was very optimistic about Dave Eggers latest, How We Are Hungry, because I liked his first two books and I adore the title of his third, not least because it echoes the text tattoo on the nape of my neck, (o my hunger). But I am generally impatient with short stories; I find them unsatisfying at best. There are exceptions, but very few, and almost all of them are found in the collection Speaking With The Angel, which includes an Eggers short so I gave it a whirl. But then it turned out that all those tics and gambits and quirks of his that I liked or at least was not overly annoyed by in the first books had utterly worn out their welcome. Utterly. I believe I’ve had enough of him.

And then there’s Douglas Coupland. Who’s OK. I’ve read all of his novels so far and although none of them are dazzling in any way, all are adequate. They are just fine. He usually muffs the ending but I’ve usually had a good enough time reading until the dumb part that I can overlook it, and plus, by now I know the dumb part is coming so I’m not too let down. Eleanor Rigby (and Oh. My. God. do I hate books named for famous songs) seemed like fairly standard Coupland fare—he’s pretty much the same age as me so his narrator usually is too, and right away we’ve got a common cultural frame of reference—until he introduced a character with a terminal disease called multiple sclerosis. Uh-Huh. Listen Up, Doug: MS is NOT a terminal illness. People sometimes die of it but it's pretty DAMN rare. So learn to do some motherfucking research or go fuck yourself.

Technically, I’m still reading Yann Martell’s latest; I haven’t exactly quit yet. But The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios is, well, a collection of short stories, and what am I, stooopid or something? I think maybe yes. I got through the first, quite long story, which is about a story that we are never told. The narrator said it was good though. So that was kinda frustrating because I kind of got the feeling that the story that the story was about was better than the story I was reading. Martell is a fine writer—I thought the prose and wit and imagination of Life of Pi were all just sparkling. But these stories are from early in his career and they just aren’t making the grade for me.

I picked up the new Haruki Murakami this weekend, as well Fatelessness by Imre Kertész, which has been dancing around the edges of my consciousness for a couple of months now. I can hardly wait to dig into the Murakami…I am really looking forward to reading it. I can't help but think that both of those books are going to be so much better than the stories remaining in the Martell book. And that’s not fair…no one would ever finish anything if the completion criteria was that there were no better books waiting to be read. Fair or not though—it’s not looking good for poor Yann.

(Extra! My New Favorite Joke!)
A sentence was at a job interview, and the interviewer said "we're starting a new paragraph and we have an opening for an unambiguous, declarative sentence. Do you fit that criteria?"
"Well," replied the sentence, "I'm pretty sure that I am probably the sort of sentence you may be looking for."
And the interviewer said "Sorry, but I'm afraid you are over-qualified."

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Failure of the Day: Words

I’m a lousy correspondent. Every once in a while I get an email from someone who I am genuinely happy to hear from, and regardless of whether I have seen this person in the last 15 days or not for the last 15 years, after not very long at all, I just plum run out of things to say to them.

Part of it is that I lack the ability to make small talk for more than about 30 seconds. I just flat out can’t do it. I am faced with the cavernous hollow of my blank brain echoing around each rough curve of my skull. I got nothin’. I am a thing-to-say pauper. This is even more true in letter writing than in face-to-face party chatter (at which I am also cold death on a stick) because although “Really? What’s that like?” almost always works at a party, how many times can you type it in a letter?

Compounding the problem of my empty head is that I can never figure out the appropriate level of disclosure for any given discourse. As a function of my personality, I’ve always defaulted to FULL, with, uh, various levels of success. My instincts tell me that “Really? That’s like the time I was up all night screaming while my gall bladder ruptured!” is the right thing to say sometimes. And it never, ever is.

I recently tried having an email correspondence with a woman I was vaguely friendly with in high school and with whom I had a nice time talking at the reunion. She sent me a chatty “the last 20 years in a nutshell” letter and I responded in kind. She had all kinds of interesting jobs and travel and finally, a husband and a kid to tell me about. I told her about how the state of California paid for my education because I was crippled. I swear to god, I told the story in the most positive, golden, sunshiney way I possibly could, and I still never heard from her again.

Neither my life nor my disposition are geared to casual chatter. That’s the way it goes. I think that I am destined to leave in my wake a trail of awkward silences and very short-lived pen-palships. And that is in fact exactly why I started this blog. And also why I developed my patented party sentence: “How’s the dip?”
In case you were wondering.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Failure of the Day: 5

How good was new year’s eve? We found free street parking. Within one block of the club we were going to. In North Beach. On new year’s frickin’ eve, people! Can you even comprehend the magnitude of that kind of good fortune? I can’t! I can’t comprehend it!

We went to Cobb’s and saw what would have to be one of the top 5 best comedy shows I have ever seen in my 20 plus years of seeing comedy shows: Greg Proops, Patton Oswald, and Dana Gould. And we saw Dave Eggers and his wife in the audience, adding a celebrity seal of approval to our entertainment choice.

I believe Dana Gould is the Funniest Person on Earth and a true genius. Go download his CD Funhouse but do not listen to it while driving. Seriously. Because the cop who pulls your body from the mangled wreckage of your car will have to tell your loved ones that your last words were, inexplicably, “Holy shit, the moon!”

On Saturday we finally saw Oceans 12, which I thought was terrific. There was a visual in the first one (the remake): Brad Pitt in a brown wig and horn rim glasses, AKA God’s perfect nerd, that had to have been pulled directly from my not at all buried fantasy of what Nancy-centric porn would look like. In O12, there was a similar visual that just got me: Topher Grace in moneyed grunge wear and long greasy hair. God!

It’s worth noting that Topher Grace is the spit and image of a teenage Chris. (Chris doesn’t see it, but everyone who knew him then agrees with me.) There was just something about seeing Topher so dirty and manly and fucked up in an LA hotel room that was incredible hot. And really, what good is being married if you can’t fantasize about sexually defiling your husband’s adolescent self?

It was a lovely vacation. My bookshelves are roomy now and my closet is downright empty. It’s back to work for me this week. Happy New.