Sunday, February 27, 2011

New Ways to Suck: A found poem consisting of a partial reverse-order list of my 'Tweets' (let's find a new word for those things) from Oscar night arranged into stanzas. 'Sadists' refers to the producers who chose to put Kirk Douglas on; 'Marilyn Manson' to Russell Brand. Who also reminds me of Tiny Tim.

A big night for close-trimmed beards.
Franco made the mistake of attending the after-party first.
Oprah looks like she is about to collide with Earth.
Cate Blanchett claps limp.
Franco refuses to look us in the eye. He obviously ate it rather than smoked it. Kicking in hard.

It would be so easy for them to lick or suck the statues yet they never do.

Bring back silent movies
Blow me, Academy.
I used to want him to win.
Nice biceps.
Emotion or brain damage?
Is that Marilyn Manson?
New ways to suck being explored now.

Franco now being injected with Niacin.
They don't care and can't believe we do.
They need to move to animated hosts next year.
Worse than my prom. And reminds me of it.

The Retro-Bloggers Manifesto

When it comes to technology and media, some people are Early Adopters. We're not. And it's not just that we're cheap. We genuinely never think anything's going to last. Then it does -- just long enough so that when the lights come back on we're the only boys with their underwear down. We're Late Resuscitators. And since we can't help it, we try to make a virtue of it. It's like with vinyl records. Now, we're not saying that blogs are the vinyl records of the Internet, but... They quite demonstrably are, so we don't have to say it. Compared to their successor forms, they contain more sensory information per unit of whatever and they have a richer, more emotive sound. In fact, the instant we felt ourselves becoming nostalgic for blogs (We were watching our Twitter feeds swiftly dither by and we thought, "This is the Brownian Motion of culture, this is entropy itself, and we love it, it's freeing the tyrannized peoples of countries we don't have to live in, except that's since we're Twittering too it's probably about to die out completely, except in Yemen") we decided to write one. The formatting and the other tricky stuff that used to cost $5,000 is easy now.  Like most things that no one wants to do anymore because they overdid them and ruined them, it's so easy, in fact, that it practically runs up and does itself for one, then flatters one and adores one and even offers to pay one a little bit for letting it do it. So, there's that. Also, have you read a magazine lately? We love the Kardashians (they're so old Hollywood!), but most of the articles are shorter than this post and they're all about diving watches. Yes, there is The New Yorker. Of course. And the Atlantic Monthly. And also McSweeney's and its sister publication and Tin House and Open City and the Virginia Quarterly and so on. (Or did that close?) And Vanity Fair! We really don't know about Harper's, though. Those depressing art photographs of massive chemical spills at dawn as seen either from space or from the implied perspective of one of their aboriginal victim's ghosts that the editors always run above the stories are not only pretentious in a way you don't see a lot in New York-based smart publications anymore, they truly do depress us after a while. They make us feel nihilistic, not engaged. Or weirdly angry. And so does the sad-ironic Harper's Index, which is basically a masochistic thrill for thoughtful medium-high-income liberals at this point,  and so do the exquisitely-counterpointed-so-as-to make-you-smirk-suicidally-at-the-moronic-folly-of-it-all-but-then-you-read-something-great-and-moving-and-hate-yourself-for-smirking Harper's Forum pieces. What is the editorial goal of Harper's? Honestly. To publish often-superb writing in such a way that no matter what the individual pieces are about the reader will always go away thinking:  "I should never under any circumstances reproduce and next year at this time I should probably go to an assisted-suicide legal-marijuana state and, while dressed in clothing of the other gender, die?"

We would prefer not to. We would prefer to do this.  Since nothing pays anymore anyway, why not?

And why should you possibly mind?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

My Facts (Includes true personal George Clooney and Jorge L Borges anecdotes)

I live in Montana and California but go to New York a lot to visit The Masters. Stuff that won't go into my novels or that won't pass the major media filters is what will go here. That big picture is of my girlfriend. The little picture is of me when I was her age. I have kids. I grew up in a Minnesota town of 500 where a noon siren sounded every day so people who worked outside knew what time it was. The town where I live now, in Montana, is pretty bombed out from the recession. I love to drive, no matter how expensive gas is. I drive a Ford. A hybrid Fusion. Great car but not in snow. My family is originally from the Cleveland/Akron area. I went to Princeton and wrote a memoir I'd like you to buy called Lost in the Meritocracy about how much I hated it. I loved Oxford, though. You just read a lot there and write little essays and stage amateur plays with your friends. The movie Up in the Air was based on my novel of the same name. George Clooney starred. He played me. In person he's smart and charming and extremely sincere about his Sudan work. He could have stolen my girlfriend from me and showed signs that he knew it, but he didn't. I think that shows class. In both of them. The movie Thumbsucker is based on one of my novels. It was directed by Mike Mills, is terrific, but is not as good as Mike's upcoming movie, "Beginners," which is superb. Of all the Hollywood people I've met, my favorite is Robert Downey Jr., who is a kind of shining psychedelic optimist and as verbally quick as any top-tier writer. I was very good friends with Clark Rockefeller, who was revealed as a fraud and one of the last few decades' greatest con men. He sure fooled me. I saw Samuel Beckett walking down the street once in Edinburgh wearing a long navy blue wool coat. It was like seeing a great British sailed frigate from the Empire days come knifing up a little river, that shocking, that beautiful. I also met, unexpectedly, Jorge Luis Borges once, long after I thought he was dead. It was 1985. It was like meeting Kafka. He recited a speech from King Lear (in English) and then explained how it might be improved. When he recited the improved version, I had to concede he was right. He reminded me of the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland, all bent over and blind with a curled wooden cane.

My Honest Impressions of Islam in the Biographical Order They Occured

1. Aladdin and genies. Enchanting.
2. "I Dream of Jeannie," the TV show. Dumb but arousing,
3. An adult at one of my parent's cocktail parties in 1970 or 71 using the term 'Black Muslim' about the   boxer formerly known as Cassius Clay. Worrisome somehow.
4. Coming across the name 'Malcolm X' in a newspaper or magazine. Frightening and puzzling.
5. Befriending Asif Agha, a brilliant student from Pakistan, at Princeton. The first human spirit and intellect I ever knew that I would call 'beautiful' in the richest sense of the word. Enlightening.
6. Visiting the Alhambra with a girlfriend in 1984. I had a peculiar and novel aesthetic experience midway through the guided tour: I sensed, very powerfully, that I was in the presence of ideal forms that I lacked the maturity and the depth of spirit to perceive properly. Haunting, frustrating, and humbling.
7. 9/11. Disorienting and terrifying.
8. Various post 9/11 readings, serious conversations and semi-organized attempts to educate myself on the topic of Islam. I come to understand the religion as a rather peculiar mixture of a cult of personality and a trippy eccentric version of late monotheism. I come to view the societies, by and large, as backward and medieval and peculiarly susceptible to oligarchical subjugation. Interesting, depressing.
9. Ongoing cable news coverage of Middle-eastern affairs. Distancing.
10. Sudden onset of revolutionary fervor in Egypt, Libya, etc. Inspiring.
11. I learn that a very chic English woman of rather high social standing who I knew at Oxford University has converted to Islam and has become publicly active, particularly in the arts and education spheres, in promoting her faith. Challenging.
12. General awareness of Sufism as a kind of psychedelic, mystical, all-involving practice that I feel spiritually attracted to despite my ignorance of its tenets, history, and so on. Intriguing.

Tentative Conclusion: Islam, let's talk. In person. Though you do scare me a little sometimes. I also suspect that you, at your best, are my superior in certain ways.

Self-Service Assisted Suicide (The Costco Syndrome)

Was just at Costco this morning doing my part to help kill off the last few American Main Street businesses when I did something I've never done before: peeled away from the long lines at the checkout counters to use one of the self-checkout counters. Normally, I shy away from them. They look complicated. They look like it would be easy to make a mistake while trying to get them to work, creating a big do-over hassle that just wouldn't be worth it. Also, since shoppers get no discount for using them, I figure that I'm needlessly subsidizing the store at my own expense by foregoing the assistance of a live wage-earner.

But today I had only a few items and a bit of time on my hands, so I thought 'What the hell?' The moment I arrived at my station, in front of the ominous scanner-machine with its HAL Computer-like internal blue electric eye, a guy in a Costco uniform rushed up to help me. This puzzled me some. What kind of savings was the store achieving by using both an expensive machine and an expensive, benefits-wanting human being? Then I realized that, of course, this doubled-up situation was only temporary. At some point in the future (a point already graphed out by Costco),  most -- or enough -- customers will have so thoroughly mastered self-checkout that calls for human backup will be rare. At which point the helper guy (and the other one hovering in back of him for the other self-service aisle) would be reassigned or let go. Probably let go. As would a number of the live cashiers. Duh.

That wasn't the shocking part, though -- Costco's pursuit of mechanized efficiency. The shocking part was how weirdly cheerful, how manically chipper, the doomed helper guy was about rendering himself obsolete. He grinned and bounced and offered me aid as though it was he, not management, who was going to save money when the robots shoved him aside. He actually acted like he had a stake in his own redundancy and wanted to hasten it.

It's the labor equivalent of the Stockholm Syndrome and it's everywhere. In fact, by blogging for free about the subject rather than writing this for a paying magazine, I'm proving that I suffer from it, too.

(Please send in your own examples of this phenomenon)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Vote Like an Egyptian -- Rahm Emanuel Elected in Chicago. (See Bodabag's comment below)

The news of Rahm's Emanuel's victory in the Chicago's mayor's face surprised me. It surprised me that it was news. My first thought when I saw it was: But this already happened, didn't it? Or, rather: Since there is no conceivable universe in which this could have happened otherwise, why is space being wasted on announcing that it has? This is the kind of election that's decided when the ballots are printed and the leading candidate fails to die during the campaign. And my next thought: So actual Chicago human beings really left their homes and apartments in the middle of a tough winter and possibly even made themselves late for work so as to voluntarily and individually help solemnize this Newtonian inevitability? Really? They put on gloves and boots and scraped off their car windshields just to make this profoundly predestined procedure technically legal? Boy, are they good citizens in Chicago, I thought, to do such a favor for this rich, powerful, connected man who needs no favors.


It all feels like something that used to happen in the Middle East.

Maybe we're taking up their slack.

Thumbsucker: A homemade 3rd party trailer from the movie of my novel that comprehensively misrepresents it in an orchestrally cyclonic way. When I saw it all sense of authorship of the underlying work vanished in me. It was a wonderful Buddhist moment. It happened just yesterday.

The Dictators -- When Looks Do Not Deceive (Mythical Profiling Works)

Are these not the ugliest men the collective genetic unconscious could possibly create? I mean, they look like villains out of story books. Mubarak was 100% per cent vampire-mummy. Qadaffi is the evil pirate I doodled on a notebook page when I was nine. History is really laying things bare for us. Thank you, Stereotypical Dream Mind: You are proving a sure guide in this otherwise confusing time.